Food From India, Or External Influences

Heard these guys discussing food the other day. Now, that’s quite an appetizing discussion pre-breakfast, but these guys have the knack of removing anything pleasant from a delicious topic like food. Anyway, they were talking about Indian food … Rather, a theory Hardy has about Indian food. Not so much the food, but the format.

The theory is this … Food from northern India, or northern part of South Asia (including Pakistan) in terms of format, isn’t exactly Indian food. True Indian format meal can be found in eastern and southern India; in other words, in parts of the country which were, over history, somewhat insulated from Central Asian, or Middle Eastern influence. True, no part of South Asia was completely free of influences from other parts of Asia, but northern parts of South Asia were more influenced by these outside influences than other parts.

According to his theory, the typical meal in the northern parts is daal, roti, and vegetables, with meat once in a while, more in some parts than in others. In terms of format, this is quite akin to bread (roti), soup (daal, which is often described as soup in English menu cards), vegetables, and meat, and this menu is what one would find on Middle Eastern or Central Asian tables, hence the theory. Coastal India, on the other hand, has a very different meal. A typical meal in Bengal or Tamil Nadu is rice, along with a number of preparations, with different types of daal, different preparations of a number of vegetables, and meats or fish, which, along with the rice, make for a more elaborate and varied meal. This, according to Hardy, is the more South Asian format of a meal than the relatively simpler meals (only in terms of the variety, not necessarily the preparation).

While on the topic of influences, Laurel also pointed out that it’s not just the food, but other aspects where this influence is evident. Beginning with clothes, in the northern parts of the subcontinent, the trousers and shirts of Central Asian origin are the traditional dress, in the form of the shalwar kameez, which isn’t popular in other parts of the country. This was about women, and the traditional feminine dress among the rest of the country being the sari. Similarly, mehendi, or henna, which is so popular in the northern part of the subcontinent isn’t so in other parts.

And this is how one can see influences play in different parts of the sub-continent … though of course when you say sub-continent, one influence which is rather more uniform across the sub-continent than any other is, of course, cricket!

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