Year End Special: Food for thought
Globally, 2017 was as much a year of instagrammable foods for health-conscious millennials—think avocado toasts, Buddha bowls, turmeric lattes—as it was about a shift in the culinary space, as star chefs advocated conscious eating, tackled food wastage, and promoted sustainable farming and fishing. Closer home, the conflation of the political and the edible offered up food for rumination. The dinner plate became contentious territory for right-wingers and left liberals and everything put on it sent a ripple effect through social media as well as the real world.
In Andhra Pradesh, summer arrived on a sweet note as the state’s famous Banganapalle mango received a geographical indication, or GI, tag. The fruit, also known as Benishan (blemish-free), gave the state a worthy contender to the Alphonso.
Varied claims regarding the origin and historicity of foods generated outrage, memes, and sometimes brought to the fore old rivalries between states. The provenance of the rosogolla led to one such tug of war among neighbours West Bengal and Odisha. Even as West Bengal was granted the GI tag, Oriya people across the country seethed, vowing to trump this pretender, otherwise known as “Banglar rosogolla”, and renewed their fight for the original rosogolla. For Bengalis, this certification was vindication, for this was no ordinary mishti—it is a cultural artefact and a term of endearment.
This was also the year when Indian food broke records both at home and in the world, from a supersized samosa created by Muslim Aid, a charity based in London, to the largest quantity of khichdi ever cooked, weighing a whopping 918kg. In the run-up to the big cook-off, rumours began to float of the possible nationalization of the humblest version of the dish. Twitter erupted in a storm of name-calling and one-upmanship between the pro- and anti-khichdi brigades. Secret family recipes of khichdi were dug up and chefs from all corners of the country, and even far-flung UK, offered versions of khichra, khichuri and kedgerees. Some anthropologists even dispelled the idea of a proto-khichdi, remarking that every state’s khichdi was a dish in its own right, right from the sweet Tamilian pongal to the rich Parsi kolmi (prawn) ni khichdi. As matters came to a head, Union food processing minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal came forward to quash rumours of jingoistic zeal around khichdi—and everyone returned to their daily dal-chawal.