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Indian food - Re-invented in West

I have been living in north america for a long time and have extensibly traveled in the western countries. One thing that really stands out about indian restaurants outside south asia is that they have mastered the art of serving the same mass produced gravy adorned with ingenious names that almost rolls out of tongue of every non-indian customer of theirs.

I have never been able to tell "Rogan Josh" from "Kadai Lamb" or "Kadai Chicken" from "Chicken Masala" or "Chicken Curry". There are literally hundreds of dishes made out of the same set of curry pastes. Some are garnished with tomatoes, while others with coriander leaves. Even that protocol is not consistent across restaurants. They pretty much start out with a vegetable curry base, add some cauliflower and potatoes to it and call is "Aloo Gobi". Pretty exotic eh? and then you move on and add some chicken and call is chicken vindaloo. Why stop there.. let's add some lamb and call it "Rogan Josh".

I once cooked Chicken Jalfrezi for one of my Irish-american friend. He had lived in london for almost 15 years and had natuarally developed liking for indian food, the official cuisine of britain. He liked the dish and when he was done eulogizing my culinary skills, added "Jalfrezi in Balti cuisine is different".

Indian food has transformed so much in west, it has a name of its own. Balti cuisine?? Like a bucketful of alien food?? I have actually come across an indian restaurant that proudly serves "indian nachos" and "indian pizza" on their menu.

Lots of people are surprised to hear that "Curry" actually is a word coined by British. Its closest resemblance to anything of indian origin is "Kari" in Tamil which means "Black pepper". Indian main dishes have specific names and "Chicken Curry" is a dish concocted during the english occupation. Curry powder does not come from India at all, the closest equivalent is Masala (spice mix). Original indian dishes have specific names that come from either the spice combinations, ingredients or cooking method.

I do not go to indian restaurants in America by my own will. Crimson red tandoori chicken that tastes as bland as boiled turkey is not my idea of indian cuisine. Neither is myriads of "chicken this", "chicken that, "paneer this" and "paneer that" cooked with exactly the same ingredients.

Perhaps, as we get closer to the "one world" and global economy, foods of different regions will lose their authenticity more and more. Just as we are losing our cultural identity everyday. When McDonalds, Pizza Hut, KFC, italian eateries and the famous "Hooters" restaurant can find its place in India, who am I to complain when Naan gets wrapped around a kabob, becomes "Naan Burrito" and finds its way into western palate.

by Rajiv Anand © khanakhazana.com (all rights reserved)
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