Speaking in English, wearing western clothes, driving a foreign car or being familiar with international music is something which is second nature or possibly first even, to many of us in urban India.
When choosing a restaurant to dine out at for a special occasion, one that offers International cuisine is often the first choice. After all, we already cook Indian at home. Besides who’s going to eat with fingers, particularly at a business dinner or with sophisticated friends.
One part of us, as urban Indian foodies, craves the excitement of international cuisines from Mexico and Japan. But at the core, we’ve all confessed at some point, that despite our travel, we all feel anchored in the comfort of staples like dal-roti, rajmah-chawal, curry-rice, or the like... depending on which part of India we’re from.
My wife and I went for a meal to little place called Sammy Sosa in Mumbai, where we ordered a couple of their Mexican dishes. We’ve travelled quite extensively in the United States and tasted some rather good and authentic Mexican dishes. As the dishes came along, my wife kept saying that she liked the food, while my smile grew bigger and bigger. She finally couldn’t bear it any more and she asked what I felt. I said I liked it too. Then why the big smile?
I was smiling at discovering the reason why we appreciated the food. The service was particularly good – a big part of our happy experience, the decent ambience contributed nicely as well. But most important was the fact that there was a very familiar sense of Indianness to the taste of each dish, while the names and presentation style remained western. By the time the refried beans came, I said rajmah-chawal and while she screamed in denial, she smiled in acceptance.
This is not about “Indianized” international cuisine available in this particular restaurant versus “Authentic” international cuisine available in some other restaurant. It’s about the Indian inside us which knowingly or unknowingly seeks familiarity, in even the most far away cuisines.
Don’t quite believe it? Try a Harissa sandwich at Moshe’s and ask yourself honestly why you like it and what it reminds you of. For that matter, try dishes at the most sophisticated restaurants in India, ask yourself which dishes you liked and what they remind you of.
Don’t get me wrong. Most of us urban Indians do have an adventurous side and our palettes are indeed open to truly new tastes, textures and ingredients.
I have since, asked quite a few friends about this “Indian Inside”. I’m delighted to say that all accepted... Phir bhi dil hai Hindustani!!! I believe that in-fact 90% of all urban Indians will admit to this. The remaining 10% I must conclude are liars.