A friend has descended from the land of Stars and Stripes – a WhatsApp message a week ago demanded catching up over Indian food. A search on Zomato largely throws up suggestions of restaurants specialising in modern Indian cuisine. A closer look at the menu shows ‘deconstructed’ food items and desserts ‘reincarnated’ from mithai. Not the food to quench the desi cravings of an NRI friend!
I settle on Papa Pancho which does not disappoint in flavour and authenticity – including cleanliness, that does not pass muster under American scrutiny. I remind her of the many meals at roadside vendors which have fortified her stomach for life – and we eat in peace.
But, this is not a review of Papa Pancho, nor is it a comment on my friend’s dietary indulgences. It is about our gastronomic evolution.
“Pak choi, baby corn, spring onions, mushrooms…” I list out to the local vegetable vendor.
“Snow peas? Tofu? Water chestnuts?” he suggests, having guessed that it is oriental on the menu. The names roll comfortably off his tongue – these ingredients are as familiar to him as aloo and gobi.
Twenty-five years ago, we brought mushrooms to our home for the first time. We were clueless about cleaning them, chopping them and cooking them. Today, button mushrooms are as commonplace as the bhindi – and in fact, we may now have our pick from enoki, oyster, porcini and other varieties of mushroom. Kale is the new spinach – and moringa leaves are, at the moment, on their way to become the new kale.
This is how I look at it: the seed of gastric change is sown by restaurateurs in their new or revamped restaurants. The seed then spreads to other establishments and germinates there. Our palates first feel around them – and then, they become comfortable with their flavours and textures. Consequently, we bring them home. And with YouTube, cooking with these exotic ingredients is no mystery.
I am experimenting with Georgian food today. I don’t know much about Georgia apart from a vague idea of its location somewhere in east Europe. But a friend has returned from a trip to France – and the image of pkhali is making me salivate in my sleep. I wake up armed with a list of ingredients and a recipe thrown up by Google. A couple of hours later, a bowl of spinach pkhali and another of aubergine pkhali are chilling in the fridge. In appearance, they resemble the image I saw the online recipe and their taste has assured me of the yumminess. Another corner of the globe has been conquered!
It is true what they say about the world shrinking – it has shrunk to the size of our tummies!
Featured image used for representative purposes only.