As I travel across the country yet again I am convinced that travel is the best way to understand the food and culture of any country. After all food is an evolving space and cross cultural travel shapes up the cuisine of any culture. Staying in India we always study how our cuisine has been affected by different people and subcultures, traveling into the country either for trade or war.
There is another story to be told, the story of Indian cuisine affecting the world through ages. For thousands of years, Indians travelled to various parts of the world as traders, Buddhist monks, Hindu priests, labourers and more recently, immigrants. There is archaeological proof of presence of Indus valley merchants in Mesopotamia. Trade was a big reason to travel in the ancient and medivial periods. However from the 17th century onward, Indians travelled to South Africa, Britain and North America as slaves and later this became a massive emigration drive in 1830s with the Abolition of slavery and the introduction of the indentured labour system pushing Indian Labour out into the British, French, Portugese and Dutch colonies.
Looking back, the signs and impact of this mass movement are the most visible in the food of Africa, South east Asia and Caribbean/Fiji Islands.Lets look at Africa first. The trending dish from South Africa, “Bunny Chao” was a backdoor serving option to cater to the Black South Africans who couldn’t enter the restaurants run by the “banias” due to Aparthied. The original nameof the dish being Bania Chow. The making of Kenya Uganda highway brought in 30,000 Indians Into East Africa and along with them came kebabs, samosas and bhajias.The use of coconut millk in Kenyan cooking is believed to be an Indian Influence with the signature dish being Kuku paka (Chicken in Coconut sauce). The Caribbean cuisine is plush with Indian influences from eastern UP and Bihar with dishes like Tomato Chokha, Dal puri, Guyanese Peras, Baras and Parathas found abundantly across all Islands.
The plantation workers that settled in Malaysia and Singapore have influenced the street food irreversibly and for good with the Indian Equivalent of kheema roti, Murtabak (from the Arabic word, folded). The Indian Muslims in Malaysia have developed a distinct style of cooking called Mamak which includes specialties like Biryani and Roti Kanai and the tea version of filter coffee, Teh Tarik.With many more such examples of Indian cuisine making a permanent impact across the world, I think we, as Indians travelling abroad should also think about proudly discovering these subtle influences that represent the legacy left behind by our forefathers….