Indian Tadka on Global Palate
British street food has read the tea leaves right
The British street food chain ‘Chaiiwala’ ( with an assertive double’I’) has read the tea leaves right. The tabloids splashed the news across the local papers recently --- ‘UK gets its first ever Indian Drive-thru in Manchester’! And from reports one gathers that the food and the driv-thru experience is making the Manchester customers say unitedly--- yeh dil mange more! This has caused a What’sApp tsunami in Hindustan for bragging rights to say that we have arrived on the global culinary marquee.
But remember that we always had ‘run-thru’ chaiwalas at railway stations , weekly sabzi bazaars, melas and beaches. Many more Chotus in the hinterland abound in the nooks and by lanes of most Indian towns. That earthy taste of tea in kullads is a forever -memory for the boomers. Go to a weekly market and notice how the sabziwala interrupts his veggie transaction halfway as he spots Chotu approaching his cart. A dented aluminium kettle with steaming hot tea, served in teeny three -sip paper cups nowadays, is still a turn on for the whole bazaar, be it summer or winter. But then chai -pe- charcha is a national hobby.
To add more heft to our claim of being Jagat Gurus, another breaking news recently puts our humble dhabhas with rustic street food in direct competition with American iconic food chains as McDonald’s and Starbucks on US highways. Chak de phatte ! Way to go.
CKT (chicken tikka masala)has almost been a national dish in Britain. We’ve added some zing to the bland Brit food and resuscitated their palate by tweaking Indian food with innovative combinations. It is goodbye chips and fish mostly.
Our Desi Michelin Chefs like Vikas Khanna give a twist to Indian staples, serving lobsters in Sambar with their magic kadchi. We have truly emerged as the ‘ Masters of Spices’ or (to make it gender appropriate), Bharat Mata is the ‘Mistress of Spices’ a la Chitra Divakurni Banerji, rekindling memories of the Spice Route of yore by land and sea. But this won’t be the Brit’s last sigh , unlike Salman Rushdie’s ‘The Moor’s Last Sigh’. The ‘chutney’ culture is by now well entrenched in Blighty( an informal name for England, distorted from our Hindustani word, Vilayati!).
Not just street food but a bunch of fine dining restaurants with Michelin stars, that figure in Condé Nast Traveller, are hot spots in London. Bearing names that would evoke nostalgia in the remaining ‘koi hai’ tribe of the British empire: ‘Colonel Saab’,’Jamavar’, ‘Gymkhana’ ‘Benares’, ‘Opheem’ et al. And the oldest of them all is ‘Veerasamy’, on Regent Street, which completes a century in three years from now! It boasts of having served the imposing trio of Charlie Chaplin, Winston Churchill and Indira Gandhi.
Having rescued the British palate, we have now added some spice to their unravelling political kitchen cabinet. Since Rishi Sunak, the youthful Prime Minister of Indian roots, has been installed as Chef de Cabinet it’s another feather in our Indian cap. Not to forget we have a Kamala Harris across the pond who successfully harassed a shoot -from -the -lips Donald Trump recently.
Arré re re ! There is RRR ! How can we forget that from America to Europe the aisles are echoing with foot tapping crowds doing Nattu Nattu after the song won the Golden Globe and an Oscar for best original song. To return the compliment for the popularity of K-pop in India,the Korean embassy staff and diplomats in New Delhi made a video showing them gyrating with abandon to Nattu Nattu . And the popularity of the ‘chutney music’, a blend of Bhojpuri folk, filmi and Calypso in the Caribbean, transported there with indentured labour proves that soft power is not to be scoffed at.
Our cultural richness is unquestionable but we mustn’t forget that it is our dharma to take everyone along on that Kartavyapath. We have this India shining but there are enough dark spots of inequity. We shine on the global ramps in dazzling apparel encrusted with Swarovski crystals or with the most exquisite hand embroidery done by craftspeople who get a piffling amount for their work. The hunger games are on in some pockets of our land side by side with obesity affecting some metro areas.
From under the flowing gowns and saris on the glitzy ramps a scrawny hand on a skeletal arm is trying to draw attention to itself, unseen or shrugged off. But the ‘skull beneath the skin’ as in T.S.Eliot’s poem, ‘Whispers of Immortality ‘, is a grim reminder that the skeletons in the cupboard can rattle loudly at times.
Are we the Vishwagurus already?