The locavore culture

The locavore culture

Food and cuisine, over the course of its journey, has become all about disputed origin, copying and adaptation, writes Ashwin Ramachandran

Sambar

The last decade saw the resurgence of ‘Local Cuisines’, a back-to-our-roots culinary movement by chefs and food enthusiasts across the country. We delved deep into our cultural heritage, hunting down traditional household dishes, re-learning old ways and cooking up ‘new’ recipes that clearly hadn’t seen the light of a gas range ever. Regional and ethnic specialities such as Kashmiri, Naga, Bohri, Moplah, Saraswat, Kayastha, Kodagu and many more cuisines garnered the limelight. As cooks, we rebuilt our ties with farmers, purveyors, historians, community stalwarts and culturists whose invaluable contributions helped create a repository of Indian gastronomy rich enough to draw from, without becoming repetitive, boring or god-forbid- tasteless. Thanks to meticulous work by so many, ‘Locavore’ is a vital part of our dining culture again. As focus on cuisines driven by ethnicity increases, it brings into question the sincerity of culinary offerings diners experience, thus calling into play the much loved and highly brandished tool of ‘authenticity’. 

Food and cuisine, over the course of its journey, has become all about disputed origin (is the Rasogolla/Rasgola Bengali or Odia in origin?), copying (just count the versions of biryani we make in our country) and adaptation (is sambar really an adapted version of a Maharashtrian staple called amti?).

While locally grown ingredients and even certain food preparations can claim the badge of authenticity ( e.g. the Tirupathi Laddu & Hyderabadi Haleem — much thanks to the Registrar of Geographical Indication), isolating an entire cuisine within a specific set of parameters is technically impossible, insular in its approach and (pun-intended) a recipe for disaster. 

In order to understand why authenticity and food don’t go hand in hand, let us consider three factors. Firstly, Indian culinary history lacks written records, being predominantly passed down from one generation to another by word of mouth and demonstration.

Secondly, a major chunk of ingredients that feature in our meals are quite recent in the country’s long dietary history and if we were to stick to our notion of authenticity we would be consuming food devoid of staples such as potatoes, tomatoes, red chillies, coffee or even tea.

Third, Indian food owes its diversity to cultural influences that have become a part of our country through countless immigrants, a continuous barrage of wars and conquests, a fair amount of cultural amalgamation and appropriation, and a rich history of trade with various nations across the globe dating back to several millennia. 

The true measure of a cuisine isn’t defined by how well it delivers authenticity but by how well it translates the culture and traditions through which it was forged, onto your plate. Gastronomy is one of the oldest crafts of the human species. It is but natural that in such a long journey we occasionally forget that when it comes to food; innovation, progression and change are as much a part of tradition as customs, rituals and lore.  

(The author is Chef and co-founder of a delivery-only kitchen specialising in Gourmet Asian cuisine based out of Mumbai. He enjoys making comforting sandwiches and serious ramen.)