India is reaching out and staying in people’s mind. With its spiritual flavours, our food is an important ingredient in this journey and needs our attention, realisation and warmth, says Das Sreedharan.
India has influenced world history for centuries. Among many attributes to this great country, the role of spices cannot be separated from its rich cultural repertoire that includes yoga, spirituality, thinkers, arts, cinema and fashion. Long time ago, a black glow with an intoxicating scent attracted travellers and traders, to a beautiful strip of land on the south-west coast of India. This colourful region, today known as Kerala, promulgated a special aroma into its beautiful skies, later discovered as the treasure-bed of invaluable spices and the source of mystic vibrancy that connected us with Nature.
This enigmatic spice intensified the fascination and took its first journey centuries ago, to a revolution, changing the very future of this globe. We are talking about black gold, the peppercorns of India, which our rulers negotiated for land, wealth, and greed. By then, pepper had been identified as a magical gift of Asia in the globalised definition of vanity and money that changed the way we understood Nature’s blessings and how we exploited its value. As the demand crept higher, like the pepper vine on its life journey to be a divine spice, the West discovered the goodness of pepper and manifested the eastern healing and taste, primarily in food. Today, pepper has become the most powerful influence in cuisines of the world.
Let’s take a U turn and return to the present. Indian food has become a strong food brand and an inevitable meal choice for the British. It has grown from a humble appearance at the east end of London, almost 100 years ago, around the quiet gatherings of colonial servicemen. It could be the famously-known aphrodisiac qualities of spices like pepper, irresistible colours and sensual aroma that drew people closer to this historic cuisine. Local people must have got tired of a very bland diet in intense weather conditions and the instant magic of spicy food brought a new transformation as free portions of curry arrived with fish and chips meals those days.
With a new birth in England, Indian food sprang across every continent in 50 years, yet its presence in modern Britain has amazed everyone. People travel from America and Europe to London for the taste of curry (which means a dish, a meal or even a complete culture of Indian cooking), even a Pakistani or Bangladeshi restaurant would call it Indian curry house. Every child identifies curry as their national dish and chicken tikka masala has found its place in every supermarket shelf and dinner tables.
Apparently, the first Indian restaurant — Veeraswamy on Regents Street — started by an Englishman in 1927, was a popular place for entertaining the visiting royals and the elite from London’s glamour world. Indian food has grown to be the most influential foreign food in the country. It’s unbelievable to see at least one curry house in every corner of Britain, generating immense fascination for everything Indian, and flow of tourists to India, much more than from any other country.
Interestingly, what happened was just like the alchemy of spices playing in romantically warm oil. There was a profound transformation around dinner tables, as people interacted with spicy food, where many ingredients come alive and blossom in tandem, creating a rainbow of flavours. This momentous happening continued for a long time, even when the people who used spices to cook didn’t have the training on the wonders spices could do.
In the last two decades, real skill arrived and people began to see more of its effect, as Indian food stood at par with every other cuisine around. Fortunately, today, people respect Indian food more. People are well-informed about the authenticity of curry. Then, we have a passionate army of young chefs determined to change things, make name and fortune. They are from dignified cooking schools with good training background from famous hotels.
So far, so good. The road ahead is the challenge. Indian food stands a good chance to dominate the world food market. Our market is not merely immigrating Indians. The whole universe is ready for taking India into their lives. To be precise, Indian food will cure the modern world by bringing spiritual flavours that bring hope, excitement and simplicity to people’s life. The question is how many Indians know about the abundance of healing properties in our traditional method of cooking where we extract and navigate Nature’s energy and submerge into others through food.
Good, average and bad food takes same cost and time. With a little bit more devotion and focus, you will be witnessing the presence of timeless blessings of Nature along with more-than-desired taste to enhance harmony in the world. Indian food is in great shape at the minute and it is ready for the noble mission. It will create a combination of factors which will benefit India at large, by bringing more opportunities for a young population, better tourism, food export and most importantly, world peace and happiness.
Food is the ultimate source of companionship and love. It’s Nature’s replica that makes you what you are and be aware of a shared power and eternal hope. Food is the language and faith everyone still believes in. In all fairness, the necessary changes have to happen through soulful cooking. It’s an evolving phase — India is reaching out and staying in people’s mind. Food will spearhead that role with a bit of our help and realisation.
— Das is founder of Rasa Restaurants in London, chef, writer and social entrepreneur.