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Sami Zubaida

Birkbeck College, University of London, United Kingdom

The idea of Indian food, between the colonial and the global

Abstract The Indian sub-continent is ethnically and culturally diverse, and its food cultures are widely divergent. The category of Indian cuisine is a modern construction, a culmination of a history of successive imperial movements and syntheses, with contributions by the Portuguese, the Mughals, the Persians and the British. Diverse ingredients and traditions are synthesised and re-shaped to create distinct styles of cookery and service. The British, being a capitalist and globalising empire, was the most potent in shaping and diffusing forms of Indian food. Colonial and post-colonial migrations of the twentieth century developed those formations into a restaurant culture, first in Britain, then diffused to other parts of the world, including India itself. Further mutations are in progress at present with the wide diffusions and hybridisation of food cultures and the seemingly opposite pull to authenticity. Keywords Curry India British Empire Mughals Portugal Diasporas Fusion

The Diversity of India India, as conceived under colonial rule, is a sub-continent, which, territorially and culturally, included what is now Pakistan and Bangladesh, and to an extent, Sri Lanka. This vast continent included many peoples, cultures and religions. Considerable and dominant sectors of its population followed a ritual life (religion) which regulated everyday life in minutia of taboos, pollutions and avoidances which had profound effects on food cultures, not
Food & History, vol. 7, n 1 (2009), pp. 191210 doi: 10.1484/J.FOOD.1.100643


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just what is eaten, but how and where and from whose hands and in whose company. Vegetarian diet was and remains dominant among its populations, chiefly because of ritual censors on killing and eating animals, but also, for the majority of the population, reinforced by poverty. Within vegetarianism, some observed further taboos, on onions, garlic and other root vegetables, for instance (partly on the grounds that they harbour insects). Members of the high castes would not take food and drink prepared or served by members of a lower caste. The mere presence of such lower orders, or of outcasts such as foreigners, in the vicinity of the meal, and their gaze, are considered polluting.
Orthodox Hindus have been known to starve on a long journey rather than eat unfamiliar food cooked by strangers, or carry food in the polluted railway carriage . . . The Brahmin was condemned to eternal damnation if he ate food cooked or touched (even water) by people of other castes. Nor must they even see him eating.1

Among other constraints, this would seriously limit the possibilities of any kind of public eating and rule out a restaurant culture, for precisely the kind of people who can afford it. Market and street food would have to be limited to lower orders and non-Hindus, many of whom also observed taboos. A friend from a high caste family reported that sneaking out to eat in a cafe was his and his friends mode of adolescent rebellion in the secularising India of the latter part of the twentieth century. Muslims and meat Muslim conquerors invaded India at different points from the thirteenth century, and populations from Afghanistan and Central Asia settled in parts of the north, then in Bengal. A patchwork of Muslim and Hindu principalities and populations were established in northern India, with much hybridization and religious syncretism between the two. The Mughal invasion of the sixteenth century established a vast empire with deep penetration into the continent, both territorially and culturally. Mughal kings, courts, aristocracies and officials interacted closely with native Indians, especially at the higher classes, and much cultural and even religious hybridity developed. The emperor Akbar (15551605) is reputed for having established close relations with Hindu culture and religion, even to the extent of adopting Hindu ascetic
1 Shanti RANGARAO, Good Food from India (Bombay, 1968), quoted in Alan DAVIDSON (ed.), The Oxford Companion to Food (Oxford, 1999), p. 398.

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practices, including a degree of vegetarianism in later life.2 It was, however, in meat cookery and consumption that the Muslim empires made their major contribution to Indian culinary cultures. The Mughals came from Central Asia, Samarkand to be precise. They spoke a Turkic dialect, but the language of culture and refinement was Persian. This language remained dominant in Indian courts, aristocracies and intellectuals till the twentieth century. What may be discerned as a Turko-Iranian world was bringing together what are now Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia in common cultural and linguistic themes, under diverse dynasties which combined these elements. Babur, the first Mughal, conquered Hindustan, as it was known, from Kabul, where he had established his kingdom after losing Samarkand to the Uzbeks. Babur, unusually, wrote a memoir, the Babur Nama3, in the rare genre of confessions, detailing not only events, but sentiments, vices (drink and boys) against which he was struggling, and his tastes in food. He loved Kabul, for its climate, scenery, and most of all the food, especially the melons about which he waxed poetic. He found India and Delhi the complete opposite. He detested the climate, the people and especially the food. He pined for the air, the water and the fruit of Samarkand and Kabul. This theme of nostalgia survived to some extent with his immediate successors who continued to import the fruit from the homelands. But they became acclimatised to India and discovered its special pleasures, especially mangos, till Akbar, Baburs grandson became fully integrated, and, as we saw, adopted Indian ideas and styles, employing Hindu cooks in his kitchens, alongside those imported from Central Asia and Persia. The culinary style of the Mughals had much to do with the nomads and the steppes, highlighting meat cooked simply by grilling and boiling. The refinement came mostly from Persian sources, especially after the long exile of Humayun, son of Babur, in Kabul and the Safavid court in Iran.4 He returned with an entourage of Persian courtiers, craftsmen and cooks, much like the Restoration court in seventeenth century England, with the restored Charles II returning from France with a full complement of French culture, including the cooks and the culinary styles. The elaborate rice cookery of Safavid courts

2 Abraham ERLAY, The Last Spring: The Lives and Times of the Great Mughals, (New Delhi/ New York, 1997), pp. 181230; Ruby LAL, Domesticity and Power in the Early Mughal World (Cambridge, 2005), pp. 152153. 3 Babur Nama: Journal of the Emperor Babur of Hindustan 14831530 (New Delhi/New York, 2006); Abraham ERALY, Last Spring . . ., pp. 338. 4 Humayun assumed the throne in 1530, was then displaced by an invasion from Afghanistan in 1539, went into exile, wandering in Afghanistan, culminating in refuge at the Safavid court in Iran, then regained his throne with Iranian help to rule again 155556 (Abraham ERALY, Last Spring . . ., pp. 101136).


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enriched the much simpler Indian styles. The fusion that followed combined Indian spicing with Persian arts, giving rise to the rich Biryanis.5 Am I here going back on my earlier contention that there was no common Indian food, when I speak of Indian spicing? Is there a common denominator in the prevalence of spice? When you look at Indian cooking of the different regions, especially among common folk, then you find that most used few spices, different ones depending on what is available, most commonly ginger and chilli, some places mustard, others cumin and coriander. Chilli only came into common use from the eighteenth century:
Common people in Mughal India subsisted on rice, millet and pulses . . . Chillies were not commonly used in Mughal cookery they had just been introduced from South America by the Portuguese . . . nor was the common Indian food spicy and hot, for pepper was grown only along the Western Ghats and most of the spices had to be imported from South-east Asia and were expensive.6

Like in European antiquity and early modern times, and in parts of the Middle East, rich and elaborate spicing in India was a feature of the ostentation and luxury of the upper classes and the courts. Ordinary folk made do with the few spices available, but there was clearly a taste for spicing, which pervaded the sub-continent. European incursions: the Portuguese and the White Mughals The Portuguese colonists appear to have readily adapted to their Indian environment, and entered into intimate interactions with other populations in their enclave of Goa, established in the sixteenth century.7 Travellers described Goa in the 1560s as a thoroughly hybrid environment; Portuguese grandees adopting Indian dress of silk gowns, keeping harems and instituting purdah for the women. Men chewed betel nuts, ate rice with their right hand and drank arak (which, in India, was spirit distilled from fermented palm sap). While official life was Portuguese, the markets and the populations were described as similar to other Indian cities, with diverse populations

5 Biryan is a Persian word to indicate frying or roasting. In the Indian context it became identified with rice cookery, and from there spread globally as a rice dish. 6 Abraham ERALY, Last Spring . . ., p. 630. 7 See M. N. PEARSON, The Portuguese in India (Cambridge, 1987); William DARLYMPLE, White Mughals, (London, 2003), pp. 1116. On culinary aspects of Portuguese colonisation, Lizzie COLLINGHAM, Curry: Tales of Cooks and Conquerors (Oxford, 2006), pp. 4780; Chirita BANERJI, Eating India (London, 2008), pp. 2944.

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from Bengal, Cochin, Syrian Christians, Jews and Arabs intermingling with their specialised trades and goods. The Inquisition, which arrived in 1560, tried to put an end to this hybridity and religious syncretism, severely punishing any signs of such mixing and attempting forceful conversion of Hindu population. Yet, even within these strictures, one edict of 1585 stipulated that converts could only be admitted to seminaries and the Catholic priesthood if they were from Brahmanical descent.8 The list of forbidden heretical items included cooking rice without salt (a Hindu ritual custom), wearing a dhoti or refusing to eat pork. While many Portuguese and more non-Christian populations escaped the territory into other parts of India, most of those who remained were converted to Christianity, while secretly retaining many element of their culture and religion, leading to a thorough Indo-Portuguese fusion. In Darlymples words: Indo- Portuguese society was neither purely Portuguese nor wholly Indian, but a hybrid mixture of the two: a European template adapted to the climate and social mores of India, or from the opposite perspective, an Indian environment tinct with European institutions, IndoPortuguese architecture and an amalgam of increasingly Indianised European cultural importations.9 This is distinct from the British policy of presiding over native cultures which they considered separate (more below) leading to other kinds of mixtures. In one respect the Catholics succeeded in eradicating Hindu taboos was in food: Christianised Indians took to eating meat, pork and beef, with no reservations, thus leading to a unique Indian culinary culture which included these items in interesting combinations, such as Vindaloo. By the mid-eighteenth century, Portuguese rule was in decline, losing territory, wealth and control to the Dutch, the British, and Indian princes. Goa and the Indo-Portuguese diaspora in other parts, retained these cultural and culinary mixes. In later years, the British were to appreciate and value Goan Christian cooks for their skills and above all freedom from meat taboos. Portuguese contribution to the development of elements of an Indian food culture consisted primarily in the transfer of New World foods, starting in the sixteenth century, through Goa and the Malabar coast. By far the most important of these was chilli pepper which has become so closely identified with India that people in Europe and other parts of the world came to think of the spice as Indian. What is also remarkable about the chilli is the readiness with which it was accepted and welcomed by an Indian ritual and medical culture which is notoriously resistant to innovation. Pepper corns and long pepper were highly valued in southern provinces, and chilli appeared as a much cheaper and readily produced alternative, that long pepper was soon abandoned. The chilli spread slowly through India, south to north, carried
8 William DARLYMPLE, White Mughals . . ., p.12. 9 Ibid., p. 13.


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by merchants, soldiers and invaders. It is related that the Marathas, a warrior peoples from the Deccan in central India, adopted the chilli with great enthusiasm and spread it with their marauding conquests into other parts.10 Dried and ground chillis were soon exported from India to Europe and the Ottoman world (who, reputedly, carried it to Hungary where the paprika became a national spice). Other New World items, potato, maize, pineapples and other fruit were adopted more slowly and with various degrees of resistance, with the tomato (like in Europe and the Middle East) being the slowest to be adopted and with greater resistance, in some instances only in the twentieth century. Indo-Portuguese culture was the locus of innovative items in cookery, primarily to do with the invention and incorporation of meat dishes, particularly pork, into the diverse Indian repertoire. The (partial) Christianisation of Indians, in which the consumption of pork was an essential item, led to the native adoption of this otherwise taboo food (to Hindus and Muslims). It is meat cookery but in a totally different register from that of the Mughals. The employment of Goan cooks by the British then furthered the incorporation of that cuisine in the developing repertoire of Indian food. Vindaloo is one item of Indo-Portuguese origin that has entered the repertoire of Indian restaurant food in modern times, but with its origins thoroughly obscured. In the lore of Indian restaurants, first in Britain, then globally, Vindaloo is but a grade of hotness of curry, with more spices and chilli. Few places try to revive the ingredients of the dish: carne de vinho e alhos, meat in (wine) vinegar and garlic. The British must have discovered this dish, through the Goan cooks, in their occupation of Portuguese territory at the end of the eighteenth century.11 Typically, it was pork marinated in vinegar and many spices, notably chilli, then cooked in that liquor, sometimes eaten cold. In modern popular lore of Indian food all that is retained of it is the name, which now designates lamb or chicken in a hot curry. Other items of Portuguese heritage which survived are sweet dishes, notably the Goan Bebinca, a pancake layer cake.12 The British Empire Like the Mughals and the Portugeuse, the British colonists and administrators were bent to Indian ways and culture in many respects. Yet, there were crucial differences. Unlike the Mughals the Brits had their mother country as point
10 Lizzie COLLINGHAM, Curry . . . ., pp. 7173. 12 On the Portuguese heritage in sweet items in Bengal, see Chirita BANERJI, Land of Milk and Honey: Travels in the History of Indian Food (London/New York/Calcutta, no year), pp. 126. 11 Lizzie COLLINGHAM, Curry . . ., pp. 6869.

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of reference and of racial pride, the source of their power, culture and civilization. Unlike the Portuguese they did not attempt to Christianise the Indians of their territory, nor to mould their culture, let alone merging with them in an Indo-Portuguese synthesis a la Goa. Indeed, British colonial ideology was to allow and foster native religions and cultures in so far as they did not interfere with the efficacy of rule, revenue or what was considered lawful. Some have argued that the British invented Hinduism in their concern to designate a religion equivalent to Christianity and Islam, which was quite distinct from the Indians diverse understanding and observance of their rituals and laws, which did not hinge on the exclusive beliefs characteristic of the Abrahamic religions. But perhaps the most important difference of British rule was that, at its height in the nineteenth and twentieth century, it was a capitalist empire, which subsumed India in the world market and brought the rapid transformations of modernity into the country.13 Railways, for instance, brought rapid transformations in economy, culture and population movements and patterns, including the movement of foods. Through these processes the entity and idea of India as territory and culture were actualised, and that includes the idea of Indian food. The British East India Company was the first agency to be present in the country from its foundation by royal charter and monopoly in 1600. Its remarkable evolution made into a government, an administration and a military force which ruled over much of India, after progressive wars of conquest and subordination. Its government function was formalised in 1858 with the transfer of its powers and functions to the British crown. The culture and attitudes of the British to India underwent crucial changes over this period. The early colonials and settlers, from the three Presidency centres of Calcutta, Bombay and Madras, to the remoter parts, were intimately connected to Indian life.14 Until the latter part of the eighteenth century, British men, mostly without women, took Indian concubines and fathered children. They adopted Indian dress items, such as the comfortable loose pajamas (an Indian word), smoked Hookahs and ate rice and spicy foods (which they called curry). In these earlier years, the power and splendour of the Indian rulers and aristocracies were impressive, and many Europeans entered their service and adopted their modes. The idea and attitude of European or British superiority gradually evolved with the growing power and wealth of Britain with the Industrial Revolution and the flourishing of capitalist modernity, corresponding to the waning and fragmentation of Mughal and other regional powers. Many Indian rulers became vassals and tributaries of the Company by
13 Capitalist in Max Webers sense of modern Western capitalism, as distinct from the more traditional merchant and adventurer capitalism of the Portuguese. 14 See William DARLYMPLE, White Mughals . . ., pp. 154. This is the subject of the whole book.


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the late eighteenth century. Darlymple shows how at that point of the turn of the nineteenth century, Indian connections and modes were being shunned by dominant British society.15 Indian wives, concubines and children were disapproved and hidden, sympathetic attitudes to Indian religion and culture came under censor. A self-conscious British racial pride and civilizational superiority were asserted, coupled with a Christian evangelism which rejected Indian heathen ways. Another development was the arrival of women from Britain, as wives, or girls seeking husbands, the Suez Canal as well as steam navigation having contributed to faster access. Young women arriving in search of husbands were described as the fishing fleet. British households, with British modes and manners were being established, but with Indian servants and cooks. These had diverse effects on culinary modes and practices.16
Curries were no longer acceptable dishes at parties: the delicacies of an entertainment consist of hermetically sealed salmon, red herrings, cheese, smoked sprats, raspberry jam, and dried fruit; these articles, coming from Europe, and being sometimes very difficult to procure, are prized accordingly. 17

Not entirely true. Curry was never abandoned, though relegated to the European delicacies, as we shall see. Curry was a British invention, both the word and the things. As a generic term, it designates a spicy stew of meat, fowl or vegetables, cooked in ghee or oil, with a large array of possible spices, invariably onions, sometimes tamarind and/or coconut milk or flesh, typically eaten over rice. Various Indian regions and groups have diverse forms of such spicy stews, with particular designations, ranging from the meaty Muslim/Punjabi Rogan Gosht (dryish stew of meat in ghee) and Korma (in cream and almonds), to the more austere southern vegetarian thin sauces over rice, such as Rassam, but there is no generic Indian name or concept. Indeed, meat and vegetable stews in butter fat and various seasoning are regular features of many other regions, notably the Middle East, in genres known variously as yakhni, qalya, khoresht, tabikh, among other designations. There is speculation as to the derivation of the word curry, between the Punjabi cudhy, a sauce of yoghurt with dumplings of lentil batter, and the Tamil and southern Indian karil and kari, designating spices and sauces for meat and vegetables. The Portuguese adapted the word
15 Ibid., pp. 4954.

16 David BURTON, The Raj at Table: A Culinary History of the British in India (London, 1993), pp. 312. 17 William DARLYMPLE, White Mughals . . ., p.52, quoting Emma ROBERTS, Scenes and Characteristics of Hindustan, with sketches of Anglo-Indian Society (London 1837).

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to caril, and the British may have further adapted it to curry.18 The British were, of course, aware of the diversity of curry and developed various classifications, mainly in terms of regional provenance, such as Madras, Bombay and Ceylon. Such was (and is) the prevalence and spread of curry that it spawned the standard spice mixtures of curry powders and pastes, which spread to Britain, then the rest of the world. Let us now consider the transformations of Anglo-Indian culinary practices and their effects on food movements. The early merchants/factors and soldiers of the East India Company, from the seventeenth century, adopted Indian modes of eating, alongside their own attachment to copious quantities of meat, when available. The factory of Surat, the first merchant establishment of the Company saw daily copious meals eaten collectively. They employed Indian, Portuguese and English cooks, to please every palate. Lunch was the main meal. Everyday dishes included pulao, cabob (apparently, a meat curry), dumpoke (pot-roasted chicken with spices, stuffed with nuts and dried fruit, adapted from Mughal cookery), with plenty of chutneys, pickles and relishes. On Sundays and feast days these were supplemented with roast meats, including game of antelope, peacock, hare and partridge. They were not able to procure pork or beef (opposition and plotting from Muslims and Hindus), but ate plenty of mutton and fowl.19 Calcutta was established as the capital of British India by the eighteenth century, and was the centre of the rich hinterland of Bengal (after the battle of Plessey in 1757, the Company broke Mughal power and installed a puppet Nawab in the province). British appetites were, apparently, not diminished by the hot weather, and prodigal quantities of food with a great deal of meat appear to have been consumed.
We dine at two oclock in the heat of the day . . . I will give you our own bill of fare . . . a soup, a roast fowl, curry and rice, mutton pie, a forequarter of lamb, a rice pudding, tarts, very good cheese, freshly churned butter, excellent Madeira (that is expensive, but the eatables are very cheap).20

These were accompanied by generous quantities of beer and sherry. Many took to the native drink of Arak, fermented palm sap distilled (distinct from what we understand by Arak now, which is the Middle Eastern grape based, aniseed flavoured spirit). The transformation of attitudes and practices at the turn of the nineteenth century saw the determination of British households to follow the patterns of food, sociability and dress of the metropolitan Britain and Europe, and
18 Shrabani BASU, Curry in the Crown: The Story of Britains Favourite Dish (Delhi, 1999), p. XV; Lizzie COLLINGHAM, Curry . . ., pp. 115, 118. 19 David BURTON, The Raj . . ., pp. 47. 20 Eliza Fay in 1780, quoted in David BURTON, The Raj . . ., p.7.


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to distance themselves from all things Indian. This trend was aided by the technical transformations during the century: faster travel routes from Britain and the railways in India. Another important innovation in food technology was canning of meat, fish and vegetables (which also revolutionised military provisions). This put a premier on imported European foods: tinned salmon and sardines were considered superior to fresh local fish (which was, in any case, subject to fast deterioration in the heat). The fashion for French food in England was also carried over, with tins of foie gras. As one diarist observed, half sardonically:
. . . the molten curries and florid oriental compositions of the olden times . . . have been gradually banished from our dinner tables; for although a well-considered curry or malligatani capital things in their way are still very frequently given at breakfast or luncheon, they no longer occupy a position on the dinner menu of establishments conducted according to the new regime . . . men of moderate means have become hypercritical in the manner of their food, and demand a class of cooking which was not attempted in the houses of the richest twenty years ago . . . dinners of sixteen or twenty are de rigueur; our menu cards discourse of dainty fare in its native French.21

These dinner parties were formal affairs, with men dressed in dinner suits, and women accordingly, all in stifling heat, with only a panka (fan operated by servants) stirring the air and the dust. They were served by armies of Indian attendants, sometimes guests bringing their own servants. The table was laden with many courses, including copious amounts and types of meat and fowl, preceded by delicacies from tins, and imported hams, and accompanied by further tins of vegetables such as asparagus. Problems, however, lay in the kitchen, its equipment and cooks. Pastry, necessary for the elaborate European cooking, was extremely difficult to manage in the heat, and the cooks not used to it. Ritual taboos restricted the identity and the range of the cooks and servers. Hindus were largely excluded, apart from untouchables in menial tasks. Most cooks were Muslim, and Christians/ Goans were highly prized, as they handled all kinds of meat. The equipment was mostly charcoal stoves, and oven effects were produced by piling embers on top of tin lids to the pots. Elaborate recipes of French fricassees and pastries had to be translated into basic English for the cooks, who still misunderstood and adapted the recipes to their own concepts and skills. Collingham quotes an interesting French menu of one dinner, written by a literate Indian butler:
21 Colonel Kenny-Herbert in 1878, quoted in David BURTON, The Raj . . ., p. 8.

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Consumme Royal Beef Filit Bianis (Bearnaise) Roast Fowl Grinning Piece Souply (Green peas souffl) Putindiala Jumban (a cake made to look like a ham) Dupundiala Promison (not clear what the first word is, but the object was a cheese pastry)22

Many memsahibs were themselves challenged on cookery skills, never having had to learn, which compounded the problem of instructing Indian cooks in French cuisine, through limited shared English. Interesting hybrids were, however, developed, such as Souffl de Volaille Indienne, which required a mousse of chicken and curry sauce to be poured into Souffle cases. Once set, a circle of the mousse was removed and the hole filled with mulligatawny jelly mixed with rounds of chicken and tongue. This was served with a salad of rice and tomatoes mixed with mayonnaise and curry.23 There was also a basic problem with roasting or grilling meats, such as joints of mutton and fowl. In Victorian British hierarchy of status roast joints and grilled meats ranked higher than stews, considered more mundane and economical. However, meat for roasting or grilling has to be sufficiently tender, both in terms of the age and quality of the animal, and crucially, by hanging carcasses for periods of time to tenderise. Before refrigeration hanging was out of the question, and given the provenance of meat, and especially chicken, they were tough.24 Native cooks and diners over the ages dealt with this in their cooking methods: most Indian and Middle Eastern foods have meat, if at all, stewed, boiled or slow cooked. To the present day, many cooks boil meat or chicken before frying or grilling . Popular kebab joints in Cairo serve lamb and kid chops boiled and then grilled. Domestic cooks throughout India and the Middle East could not believe that you can just roast a chicken, without first boiling it. This was only changed by the relatively recent spread of battery chickens. They also have many dishes with minced or ground meats. The most prized kebabs, historically and to the present, in both India and the Middle East, are ground meat kebabs: the art and the distinct identities of kebabs from different regions lie in the recipes for grinding and seasoning the meat. Tikka or shish kebab, of pieces of meat on a skewer, was typically made with small pieces of meat, often after being tenderised by marinating in yogurt and/or
22 Lizzie COLINGHAM, Curry . . ., p. 162. 23 Ibid., p. 162. 24 David BURTON, The Raj . . ., pp. 111112.


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minced onion, and was still tough. The British insistence on roasts and grills, part of the attempt to follow metropolitan norms and fashions (where meats were much more tender), thus led to tough meats, especially with the scrawny chickens that were said to characterise native breeds. Some households, or their Indian cooks, adapted to the quality of meat by resorting to the native procedure of boiling first. Victorian and Edwardian British food fashions left their mark in major Indian cities, including British style curries. I recall such a restaurant in Calcutta a few years ago, which in decor and fare resembled Birmingham of the 1950s. Anglo-Indian food and the spread to Britain and the world As the British in India were spurning Indian foods in favour of Anglo-French fashions, sectors of British society were taking to curry and pulao. Returning and retiring Company merchants, civil servants and soldiers, brought with them nostalgia for things Indian, and some, in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries brought back Indian servants and cooks. Coffee houses were the typical meeting places for merchants and gentlemen in the earlier part of the nineteenth century, and some of these, favoured venues of the East India returnees, offered Indian fare, with one Hindustanee Coffee House, started by an Indian entrepreneur in the Portman Square area, offering authentic fare, and a smoking room for hookahs. Others, nearer the City, were more successful. Cookery books and household manuals listed curry and rice as part of their repertoire. As early as 1747, one of the earliest English cookery books, Hannah Glasss The Art of Cookery, gave recipes for pilau, and later editions included fowl and rabbit curry and Indian pickles. Recipes proliferated in later manuals, including the iconic Mrs Beeton, and many books were addressed specifically to Indian cooking. All this curry cookery was made possible by the commercial invention and spread of curry powder, in tins and bottles which formed part of the kitchen cupboard of many household, alongside pickles, chutneys, catsups and sauces.25 A British style of curry evolved which was distinct from any Indian food. Typically, it consisted of making a roux with flour and curry powder in butter or margerine, adding onions and frequently apples, then meat or chicken (curry was considered the ideal venue for disposing of left over cold meat), water or stock, then finished

25 Accounts of the introduction and spread of those Indian themes in Britain are related by various authors, examples, Shrabani BASU, Curry in the Crown . . . ., and Lizzie COLLINGHAM, Curry . . ., pp. 129156.

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off when cooked with a sprinkle of sultanas and lemon juice.26 Portions of pickle or chutney may also be added to the pot. This was the typical curry I experienced in university canteens in the 1960s and till more recent years. By that time, however, many were familiar with more orthodox Indian food from the plethora of Indian restaurants which spread throughout the country and beyond. There were Indian foods other than curries and sauces that were adapted in British or Anglo-British households. It is interesting to note that the prototypical Indian restaurant first emerged in Britain, with specific menu repertoire, as well as design features of flock wallpaper and oriental paraphernalia. The different regions of India previously had various eating places, mostly utilitarian market and street food, such as kebab stalls in some Muslim regions, belpouri carts in Mumbai and its region, and pedlars of sweets everywhere. This is a general pattern to be found in many parts of the world, including the Middle East, but does not constitute a restaurant in the modern sense of diners choice from a menu, seating round a table and being served by waiters, with drinks. Indeed, many of the Indian elites who could afford restaurants held ritual taboos against eating in public, and other, mostly Muslims, would consider public food inferior to their fine kitchens. As such, Indian restaurants were imports to India, from prototypes developed in Britain. In the second half of the twentieth century this prototype was generalised all over the world. This prototype is declining in its birth place in the years of the twenty first century, as tastes and fashion change at a rapid pace. Authentic native kitchens, whether of Lahore kebabs or Keralan fish, as well as upmarket innovative celebrity chefs, are in demand. Fusions (chicken tikka pizza and chicken tikka Kiev are examples that come to mind) are now coming to eateries and supermarket shelves. Indian cuisine has joined the global intersections of cultures and fashions. I have described one early route of Indian food entrance into Britain,that of the upper and middle class India hands, carrying over their habits and nostalgia into British life. This wave was accompanied by its brand of restaurant. I have mentioned the early nineteenth century coffee houses on Indian themes, such as the Hindustanee. The Veeraswamy, the oldest surviving Indian restaurant on Londons Regent Street established in 1936, was also a product of this wave. It was started by Edward Palmer, an India hand and descendant from a family of Anglo-Indian grandees.27 He imported Indian spices and ingredients, as well as cooks and waiters. The menu featured the dishes of Anglo-Indian classifications, of Boona, Korma, Madras, Vindaloo

26 Personal recollections. This observation and much of what follows derive from personal experience and study of British food cultures since the 1950s, and in particular the evolution of the Indian restaurant and of Indian food provisions, as well as the discourses of quality and authenticity. 27 Shrabani BASU, Curry in the Crown . . .., pp. 118119; Lizzie COLLINGHAM, Curry . . ., p. 154.


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and such like, boasted as authentic. His high class clientele included the King of Denmark, reputed to have sent a barrel of Carlsberg beer to the restaurant every Christmas, to ensure the availability of his national beer on his visits. This reinforced the tradition of drinking lager with Indian food, now common. It was, of course, alien to Indians, but favoured by Anglo-Indians from the nineteenth century or earlier, with their imbibing of India Pale Ale with their Indian meals. Another early route were Indian students, seeking comfort food from home, and some enterprising figures abandoned their studies in favour of providing for this need with restaurants for fellow students and expatriates. Shafis in Londons Soho acted as a community centre and club for students and middle class Indians, and there were a few others. I recall in the 1950s and 60s the intellectual and student left frequented the Ganges restaurant in Soho, established by a leftist couple, a Bengali and his German wife. The most important wave, however, was that of Sylheti seamen (Laskars) who abandoned ship and settled, mostly in the East End of London, spreading out to other parts of Britain. This was in the earlier decades of the twentieth century, but became an important wave in the 1940s and after. Many found shelter in crowded boarding houses, often with cafes serving simple curry and rice, started by some of their numbers with a bit of capital and enterprise. In the aftermath of World War II, there were many humble and derelict properties, old cafes and fish and chips shops, offered for sale in different parts of Britain, and some were bought by these Sylhetis, who maintained the old working mens cafe menu of fish and chips and pies, but added curry and rice. This was the start of the tradition of curry and chips still prevalent in many cheap cafes. Some of these establishments expanded to full restaurants with Indian food as their main offering, especially in university towns with students looking for tasty and cheap fare, typically taken after a night in the pub with several pints under their belts. These restaurants spread rapidly to all British towns from the 1960s and became a regular feature and institution. Sylhet is a remote part of Bengal, on the Nepalese border, which supplied seamen to and engine stokers for British ships, which took them to British ports and elsewhere. Their own food consisted primarily of fish from their abundant rivers, eaten with vegetables and rice, simply spiced. They did not, however, serve their own food (which remains obscure to British and international eaters) in the restaurants. The template of the Sylheti run restaurant menu was taken from Veeraswamy and the earlier Anglo-Indian restaurants, where many of the Sylheti restaurateurs had served their apprenticeship as kitchen hands and waiters. Dishes based on meat and chicken, with some Mughal ancestry, became the Indian food of Britain and the world, under its own classifications noted above. This food was largely unknown to most of India, and unfamiliar even to the meat eating Muslims and Punjabis. It has, however, been incorporated in the restaurant culture of India itself.

The idea of Indian food, between the colonial and the global


The Syheti Indian restaurant in Britain acquired a standard form. Kinship and regional networks maintained common arrangements of styles, supplies and routines, and ensured the continuity of recruitment of labour within the group. Diners expected a common decor and ambience, of dark flock wallpaper, oriental paraphernalia and Indian film music. The kitchen stores consisted of standard supplies for quick preparations of the dishes under diverse designations: pulped raw onions, drums of curry pastes and precooked vegetables, meat and chicken. The orders were concocted from these ingredients with the addition of more or less chilli powder, fenugreek, lentils, tomatoes or paste or ketchup, hard boiled eggs and food colouring. The pulaos and biryanis were similarly varied. Menus adopted the Western routine of a succession of courses, with starters, mains, side dishes of vegetables, breads and rice, and dessert, contrary to the common Indian practice of putting all the dishes on the table. Drink, especially lager beer, dear to the British public, became an essential feature (which did not seem to trouble Muslim conscience). As amuse gule with the initial drink diners would indulge in papadams and pickles, both items, where eaten in Indian regions, being accompaniments to the food. At one point in the later 1960s the tandoor was introduced, first in upmarket London restaurants, then spread everywhere. The tandoor, an oven of Middle Eastern origin, of an earthenware pot fired by wood burning at the bottom, typically for baking flat bread (pide, naan/noun, khubz) stuck to the sides, but also used for grilling meats on long skewers inside. The tandoori chicken, kebab, tikka and so on, with accompanying bread soon became a regular feature of all Indian restaurants. This was the context for the invention of chicken tikka masala, reputedly Britains favourite dish. The (apocryphal) story of the invention of this dish tells that a Brit diner in Bradford (or could be anywhere else in Britain) found the chicken tikka he ordered too dry, and asked the waiter why it had no sauce. The inventive cook then incorporated the dry chicken into a sauce he made with ghee, spices and tomatoes. From there, so the tale goes, it became a much demanded dish, and Britains favourite. In the 21st century Indian food, now an established category in the vocabulary of food and restaurants, has started a new career of diversification and hybridity, alongside many other genres, as we have seen. Still, the old repertoire, whose tale I related here, continues to be dear to the hearts of many British and Indian diners. Kitchri/Kedgeri/Kushari: the movement of a dish Let me now relate the story of a particular dish, Kitchri, of ancient and humble ancestry in many Indian regions (one of the few that was common to so many parts of India), which has had a career of wide diffusion in the Middle


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East and Britain. Kitchri appears in the historical records as a constant dish in practically all parts of India. At its most basic it is a simple preparation of rice and lentils, boiled together with varying spices and onions, sometimes enriched with butter or ghee. It crops up as food of the common people over several centuries, and is favoured by the soldiery, enhanced by the ease of carrying the dry ingredients and simple cooking in water.28 It was also discovered and elevated by the Mughal kings: the emperor Jahangir reputedly discovered it on tour of Gujarat and introduced it to the palace kitchens, where, over time, it developed into more sumptuous fare, enriched with almonds, raisins and diverse spices.29 It was similarly enriched in the Lucknow court of Oudh. The British liked it too and incorporated versions of it as a breakfast dish. The British in India carried over the tradition of a sumptuous breakfast with a variety of meats, eggs and breads.30 Fish was generally eaten for breakfast, before it started deteriorating in the heat of the day. Somehow, in British practice, kitchri became associated with fish. It migrated to the home country in the nineteenth century as Kedgeri, which became a staple breakfast dish for the Anglo-Indians, but also for the upper classes, and continues to the present day to be a breakfast dish on select tables. The British kedgeree was a transformed dish: it retained the rice but omitted the lentils, so essential for all Indian kitchris. It added fish, typically cooked and flaked smoked haddock, another breakfast item, then added hard boiled eggs, butter, sometimes fried onions and few spices, typically turmeric (for colour) and maybe ginger. In the recent wave of celebrity and fashion foods and restaurants an upmarket Indian restaurant in London, Zaika, now offers Indian risotto of kitchri topped with crispy prawns.31 The other route of spread of kitchri was in the Middle East. I grew up with kitchri in a Jewish household in Baghdad. In almost all such households kitchri was eaten for lunch or supper every Thursday: it may have been part of an unspoken tradition of a minor fast on that day, for kitchri was the only major non-meat dish eaten. The standard recipe is for rice and red lentils to be boiled together with some tomato paste, then for garlic and cumin to be fried in lots of butter and added, then all allowed to steam together. It was then served with pots of yoghurt as sauce, extra butter to melt in the hot dish, and sometimes with a garnish of fried cheese. This feast of dairy products was some kind of compensation for the deprivation of these products with normal
28 Hobson-Jobson: The Anglo-Indian Dictionary (1886, Wordsworth Reference 1996), lists, under Kedgeree, mentions of the dish over the centuries, starting with Ibn Batuta, the Arab traveller, circa 1340: The mung (lentil) is boiled with rice, and then buttered and eaten. This is what they call kishri, and on this dish they breakfast every day. 29 Lizzie CCOLLINGHAM, Curry . . ., p. 34. 30 David BURTON, The Raj . . ., pp. 8384. 31 Lizzie COLLINGHAM, Curry . . ., p. 238.

The idea of Indian food, between the colonial and the global


meat based food due to Jewish dietary rules. Yogurt as accompaniment to food was common in Iraqi practice, and indeed in many Middle Eastern and Indian cultures. Jews were deprived from this pleasure, and made up for it with kitchri. I am informed by friends from wealthier households that they typically ate kitchri on Thursdays accompanied by a fish stew called salona. The fish and kitchri syndrome may have seeped in from British practice. Kitchri was not confined to Jews: I am informed that it was known in some Baghdadi and Basri Muslim households. The Jewish connection is most likely through family networks and wide exchanges with India. There was a considerable Iraqi Jewish migration into India, starting in the eighteenth century and gaining momentum in the nineteenth century and into the twentieth. The British East India Company penetrated into Iraq through the Persian Gulf in the seventeenth century, and British interests and control into Ottoman Iraq proceeded progressively through the nineteenth century, till the occupation of the country in 1917. This created possibilities for entrepreneurs and adventurers to move within the reach of the British Raj, and many Iraqi Jews took advantage of these opportunities. The attraction of India was economic opportunities and the liberties afforded by the British Raj. The migration extended into Burma, Ceylon, Singapore and China (Shanghai), all part of the British imperial territory. Many individuals and families prospered and gained prominence, such as the renowned Sassoons, the Rothschilds of the east, some of whom eventually became integrated into the British aristocracy. This diaspora maintained active networks into Iraq of trade, charity and employment. On the culinary front it was predominantly Iraqi Jewish items that became adapted to India, such as various dumplings and galettes known as kibbeh and uruq, which have more recently surfaced in the more exotic cookery books. Kitchri must have been the movement in the other direction. Another Indian item which invaded Baghdad was mango pickle, which became a favourite for Jews and others in the mid-twentieth century. In addition to being a relish with all kinds of food, it was also taken by itself with bread as a sandwich. However, the Iraqi version, made in India for export, was distinct, light and vinegary as against the hotter and oily preferred Indian condiment Another route of food diffusion was the sea and the sailors, in the Arabian and Red Seas and the Gulf. Diverse Indian ingredients and curries spread in the regions around the seas, especially in the Gulf and Basra, which became famous for its curries. Tamarind now features in many of the fish recipes in the Gulf on both the Arabian and Iranian shores. Kitchri, too, appears to have migrated by this route, which takes me to the story of Kushari in Egypt. It is a common street food: cauldrons of cooked rice and lentils, now bulked out with macaroni, are wheeled in carts by street vendors and also dispensed from kiosks and market eateries, all catering to working people on way to work or at


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lunch. It is served with fried onions and hot chilli sauce on top. No one I asked in Egypt seemed to know the origins, many assumed it to be traditional and always there; one professor guessed it may be from the Jewish kosher! I puzzled as to how Kitchri got to Egypt and speculated that it may have been the British army and its Indian contingents. This guess was strenuously repudiated by my proud Egyptian friends who could not bear their national food to have been brought by the British. It is then that I saw a passage in Richard Burtons Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to al-Madina and Meccah(1897) quoting the observations of an informant, a Mr Levick. This latter remarked on the prosperous life style of the Suezians, as compared to Cairenes, and lists the variety of their foods, which includes:
In winter it [breakfast] is more substantial [than the fatirah of the summer], being generally a mixture of lentils and rice, with clarified butter poured over it, and a kitchen of pickled lime or stewed onions.32

In a footnote Burton explains:

This mixture, called in India Kichhri, has become common in al-Hijaz as well as Suez. Al-Kajari is the corruption, which denotes its foreign origin, and renders its name pronounceable to Arabs.33

It would seem, then, that Kitchri travelled with the pilgrims and the sea-farers to Hijaz and Suez, from whence it became the popular street food of Cairo. In Hijaz it, no doubt, remains as one of the many Indian and other foreign items which enriched the culture of the pilgrims destinations. Conclusion It is commonly pointed out that globalization is not a new phenomenon, but has been going on at different paces through much of human history, particularly facilitated by the networks of empire. The foregoing account is an example. What is new, however, is the accelerating speed of movement and communication in more recent decades, abbreviating both time and space. Food modes and fashions are prime subjects of these movements. Curry has joined pizza, kebab, paella and hamburger as an item of international catering, with dispensing establishment in every city centre and suburb. At

32 Richard BURTON, Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to al-Madina and Meccah, vol. 1 (New York, 1964 [1st. ed. 1893), p. 182. 33 Ibid., p.182, footnote 1.

The idea of Indian food, between the colonial and the global


the same time, each of these items is a genre, with endless variations produced by restaurants, caterers and hypermarket ready meals. We have such innovations as chicken tikka Kiev, and chicken tikka pizza, and endless variations on samosa (an Indian pastry of Middle Eastern origin, stuffed with meat or vegetables), including avocado and cheese stuffing. Fine restaurants and renowned chefs are busy producing new dishes such as the Indian risotto of kitchri mentioned above, torn in their public discourse between innovation and authenticity, and usually manage to claim both. The movement of food facilitated by the British Empire brought about the construction of Indian cuisine and the genre of curry, and the modern processes of cultural globalization have taken over to produce ever more diversifications of the genre and its fusion with others.