” Will you be able to talk at the seminar on Indo-Us Food ? ” When I first got the call, I was kinda baffled. “Why they would like to call a food blogger who mostly writes on street-food and their stories for a seminar on Indian food in USA” ? It was beyond me. But then after couple of calls and meetings, I got confirmed that unlike my other ventures, this one is kind of serious and the audience who would be present, are serious people.
What is this all about ?
Well, this is regarding my experience as one of the speakers at the seminar named Burger vs Samosa- a journey into Indo-US foodscape, conducted by The Historical Society, US Consulate Kolkata on 6th July 2018, along with IIHM Kolkata. It’s a reality that food is something which binds the world together. So, when US food is so popular in India (Mc Donalds, KFC et al … ), and with so many Indians at USA, how can Indian food be left behind ? The seminar was aimed at that only. speakers were Utsa Ray, author of the book culinary culture in colonial India , Kalyan Karmakar from the blog Finely Chopped and myself. And my topic was probably the strangest … Indian Food in USA- a short history of the origin of every American Food item being prepared, its present adaptation in urban India. Popularity/geographical spread of Indian food in america, aspects of nostalgia about Indian food among the diaspora. Also, on the authenticity of what is branded as Indian Food In America. Phew …
Pictures say it all …
Now, while studying on the topic, I came across few really interesting facts and if I plan to sum them up with bullet pointers, it might look like this …
- Before the American Revolution, colonists in the New World purchased numerous domestic items and spices such as tea, cardamom, pepper, turmeric, saffron, cinnamon, garlic and ginger from India, via Britain. In 1809, America had its first dock for receiving supplies from India and China, known as the Boston India Wharf. With the Charter Act of 1813, the British East India Company lost its commercial monopoly over trade in Indian items. This opened the doors for America to receive goods directly from India, and as Colleen Taylor Sen writes in her book Curry, “Chicken curry, curried veal and lobster curry were standard items on the bills of fare of Boston taverns and eating houses in the 1820s and ’30s.”
- The first Indian restaurant in USA was Sherry’s by one chef named Prince J Ranji Smile. He was first spotted by Nathaniel Newnham-Davis, a food critic, at the Savoy Hotel in London. In 1896, Smile moved to Cecil, which was then the largest hotel in Europe. From here, Richard Sherry, an American restaurateur, brought him and his English wife over to New York, in 1899, and put him in charge of the kitchen at one of the city’s premium restaurants, Sherry’s, which was located on the Forty Fourth Street and Fifth Avenue and had opened just a year ago. After “sampling Smile’s curries” at the Cecil, Sherry decided to make him his newest exotic acquisition to fire the taste buds of New Yorkers. His famous quote was “If the women of America will but eat the food I prepare, they will be more beautiful than they as yet imagine. The eye will grow lustrous, the complexion will be yet so lovely, and the figure like unto those of our beautiful India women.”
- The interesting thing is that most Indian food in the US is of the Punjabi style and not truly “Authentic Indian Food”. If you go to a US Indian food restaurant, you will get Chapati/Naan and a curry, some Aloo Gobi, Samosas, pakora, at times some biryani, and tandoori on the menus, but all the delicacies of India are not represented in the US, especially regional dishes.
- Dosas are rare to find in restaurants in the US.
- The market share of Indian food in US market is really not that great. The reason can be taken as the intensive labor intensive method of cooking and hence an escalation of cost
But where is the damn presentation ?
Presentation by IIHM students …
A superb presentation was done by IIHM students afterwards and it was really a great experience.
I personally feel food is a great connector it was evident from the audience reaction. And my take-away from the whole show ? A great deal of learning. While preparing this 30 minute presentation, whatever I had to study, will stay with me forever. And that’s something I’ll cherish.
Meanwhile, I spoke to Akashvaani Gold FM on this seminar and you can check the same here …
Thanks a lot, The historical society, US Consulate Kolkata for choosing me as the speaker and I am seriously looking forward to more such sessions.
Bon apetit !!!
Comments and critics welcome.
I can be reached at 9903528225 / firstname.lastname@example.org
- Pic courtesy: Ranjini Guha and my friend Soumya shankar Ghosal
- Help taken from : Scroll article on Sherry’s