Monday, February 20, 2017
India is country of vast cultural diversity. It’s diversity and not just limited to religion but regional, linguistic, physical features and also food! Different states in India have their own unique cuisine. From Kashmir to Kerala and Rajasthan to Arunachal Pradesh -- every state’s food is different from the other.
However, the diversity in food is not limited to the regional level in India today. More and more people are migrating from different parts of the world to India. These people bring with them their own culture -- including food. Wherever there is community living together, restaurants and food outlets open up. They attract people of every culture and region.
Chinatown in Kolkata is one such place with a small community of 2000. People of Chinese origin had settled there before independence and now this place has its own Chinese cuisine restaurants serving authentic Chinese food.
Similarly, in Pune -- due to rising Iranian student population as many of them are migrating to India with their family to make a home away from the strict Islamic nation -- there is a rise of Iranian restaurants and cafés. Around 7000 Iranian students are studying in India. Irani café or Khinoor Restaurant are a few such places to eat good Irani food.
Delhi, like other metropolitan cities, is a melting pot of different cultures. In addition to people from all over India, Africans, Afghanis, Irani, Koreans all call Delhi their home. People in Delhi are great food lovers, thus it has become "The Restaurant Capital" of India. In this hotbed of different cultures, there are two places where large number of people from one community reside. The influence of their culture can be seen even in the locality. The two places are:-
Majnu Ka Tila
Tibetan refugees settled here and the land was allotted to the refugees by the Indian government in 1960. Today, it is home for a second generation of Tibetan refugees. There are around 300 families living here. The entire colony has a deep influence of Tibetan culture. The walls are painted red, free Tibet flags are everywhere and small shops, hotels and restaurants are the main business of the people residing here. You can also find shops of Buddhist artifacts and Buddhist Religious Books among other knick knacks.
The restaurant business is one of the main sources of income for people here. Tofu, noodles, buns etc are the main delicacies. Tibetan buns -- also known as Tingmo -- are made of ‘all purpose flour’ and baking soda and then steamed for a while. They are eaten with rice or Tofu. The noodles you will get here are not just limited to hakka or shezwan but all sorts of varieties, including a type of noodle known as ‘Baksa Margo’ (a special Tibetan noodle made with butter and cheese). There is dish called “Laughing”, made of wheat flour and then steamed. It is also very tasty and worth trying out.
The restaurants here are owned by Tibetan people but all the people helping here as waiters or managers are Indians.
There are many people here whose parents are still in Tibet -- who came here when they were very young. Tibetan or not, now they are part of India’s diversity and call this area their home.
In the centre of Lajpat nagar, Delhi, there are lots of Afghan people residing. The area itself has its own Afghan cultural context, so much so that the shops in the street are also named in Dari (a dialect of Afghanistan). There are a lot of Afghan cuisine restaurants opened there. Afghans come to India in large numbers for studies, business, medical care or as refugees. Many of them are settled in this area and the restaurant business is a good source of income for people here.
“Kabul Delhi” restaurant is one such place where you can find authentic Afghani food. Started in partnership between Mr. Irshad Ahmad and an Afghani in 2010, they have opened two branches in Lajpat Nagar itself. Mr. Irshad said that “it was just an idea to open a restaurant during our student days which has become our main source of livelihood.” He added that people from all cultural backgrounds come here and that Afghani cuisine is quickly becoming popular in Delhi.
Another Afghani restaurant in the area is “Balk Restaurant” -- it is an Afghan cuisine place but started by an Indian, Mr. Panditji, four years ago who saw a good opportunity in this business.
The business is really profitable but the problem initially was to find a specialized cook in Afghani food. This is now solved by hiring cooks from Afghanistan, as more and more Afghanis are coming to India in search of a livelihood. Afghani food is unique and different from Indian cuisine. They don’t use as many spices, for one.
The people living in this vicinity are happy to be a part of India and consider it a home away from home. While building a new future they haven’t forgotten their roots which are visible in this small but beautifully diverse area that they too, now call home.