“Curried Cultures” edited by Ray & Srinivas

I found, “Curried Cultures” edited by Krishnendu Ray and Tulasi Srinivas to be a fascinating book. Perhaps this is because I like stories about people, and yes, I like food! This is no collection of recipes or descriptions of what people eat in various cultures, lest you get me wrong. It is a scholarly yet eminently readable book of 300 + pages about how food, and Indian food in particular has influenced cultures and been influenced by cultures in different parts of the world. This meticulously researched book, replete with notes as one would expect of a book of this type yet retains readability which is ever so important, especially for the lay man who may not be a research scholar.

The editors have taken care to see that the book does not get boring with too much detail. It really is a series of essays which speak of food and globalization, how food influenced trade hundreds of years ago and determined the course of historical events. I found the book to be very informative too as it is spread over a broad canvas covering colonial India on one hand to modern day Britain on the other. Life, it would appear has come full circle. During the colonial times, Indians began to be influenced by Western concepts of dining and took to eating what were essentially Western foods. Unthinkable as it may seem to Britons who looked down on Indian “curries” ( most had never set foot in India) glorifying the Raj, Indian food today has become so popular in parts of Britain that cities like Bradford and Birmingham are building on Indian cuisine as an economic advantage.

To start with we are told of how the princely states in India were influenced by the women behind the throne when it came to food and eating habits. How marriages amongst royalty of the Indian princely States of those times led to the spread of culture at a pace which could otherwise never have taken place.

We read of the story of the Udupi Brahmins who set out from South Kanara ( now  Dakshina Kannada) district of Karnataka in South India, with an entrepreneurial spirit and the knowledge of their traditional recipes, to places like Madras and Bombay which were considered very far in those days. They had mastered the art of feeding many at a time gained from experience in cooking for hundreds in their village temples.

We follow the food trends in fashionable Mumbai ( the erstwhile Bombay) the commercial capital of India. How the modern middle class is not longer satisfied with the traditional cuisine . They want the best in the world and aspire to get it.. Mumbai’s super rich have the means to get it, everyday on their tables!

As mentioned before, we have adapted to other cultures and varying needs. India’s rapid progress in packaged foods is one example. In times gone by, the house wife would have shuddered at the thought of eating packaged food prepared by god knows whom. Today’s busy lady in India sees it as a great convenience while those in the US for example use it to to re create dishes they yearn for but don’t have the time or knowledge to make at home.

The book published in 2017 by the Aleph Book Company is available in Amazon and elsewhere. I would heartily recommend this for anyone interested in sociology and the study of cultures not to mention those who enjoy reading about food!


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