Sunday, June 26, 2011

Of Butter Chicken and Co

I have noticed a rather worrying trend in the South and especially in Tamil Nadu. Dravidian Movement, Tamil pride apart, everyone on the street in Chennai seemed to be ready to demonstrate their knowledge of Hindi. The best indication of the North Indianization of the South- (apart from the extra glittered Kanjeevaram sarees) is food. To me, food is a metaphor for many things. When we went to Pondicherry (this was more than seven months ago), we stayed in a mid range business hotel. I am a fan of hotels like this - the clean bathrooms and the anonymous decor that brings us - the guests into central focus. 
However, their menu had only one South Indian dish on the menu - Chicken Chettinad, which in any case is a mainstream Lajpat Nagar dish. But since, I had to make use of being in the south, I was always keeping a look out for authentic food.The dosa in the Chennai bus stop can for instance put Sagar Ratna out of business in one day. Anyhow, so I wanted to try real Chettinad food. When I was growing up, I had a cook from Chettinad. My brother would (in his endless cruelty) point out to her birds from books like Birding in North Carolina  and she, who has never left South India, claim to have eaten all of them. She was in general, an interesting character. For example, when she was a child she said she had been scared that crows would steal her breasts away....but I digress. 

Chettinad food, like most well intention-ed cuisines of the world offers little to the vegetarian and yet I, the lover of Korean Bimbimbap and the braverer of Naga restarants persevere. The typical dishes include Roast Rabbit, the spicy Egg Curry, Kothu Paratha- mashed up Paratha seasoned with onion, tomatoes and spices with the option of meat, etc. 

So, we went to Anjappar, a chain of Chettinad restaurants that I have been familiar with since college in Chennai. 
Deeply excited, I settled into the musty smelling room. I went through the menu and with great difficulty settled on a few dishes I could try, prepared to over order because it would be months before I was back in the south. 
"What is available?," I asked the waiter. " Naan, Fried Rice, Paneer," he said. 

Now, you don't spend FIVE hours (despite my penchant for exaggeration, I don't plead guilty) convincing a European to try spicy South Indian "water dal" and then go to Anjappar and order Paneer Butter Masala. That would be loss of self respect.I walked out. 

Only to be faced with another buffet for which I paid the whole price to ignore the naan and the biryani to eat Rasam Sadam and Chilly Egg. And so, in any case this North Indianization of the South is something I fear. Homogenization of cultures to adhere to the idea of India which is artificial. Just like in most Bollywood movies, the characters are Punjabi or they have no specific culture but in some odd generic way, are mildly relatable to everyone. In any case, perhaps it's just easier to pack a kathi roll than rasam sadam and convenient packaging makes life simpler.

1 comment:

SwB said...

Are you on FB? Would love for you to add me. (ID: Saltwater Blues)