Hindavi, The Kitchens of History presents a seamless series of events that have influenced our lives through cuisine and rituals we enjoy both in the privacy of our homes when we entertain and at opulent banquets. History, like food, is often seen from the prism of the authors’ perspectives and interests.
By ferreting out recorded facts in the public domain, factoring in oral legends, even reconjuring and reimagining, the blog aims to animate exciting chapters in Indian history. It visits the intrigue, the kitchen cabinets, the influences brought in by successive waves of migrants (on pursuits ranging from peaceful to aggressive) and gives hobby cooks and modern-day chefs a lot to work with.
Our interest is largely farmaishi (secret/ bespoke) cuisine, because India’s culinary tragedy has been that this art has been lost either because it perished with the protagonists or was kept under wraps as it was handed down exclusively from mothers to their progeny or from cooks to their sons. However the centuries-old culture of street food teaches an invaluable lesson: food that is accessible will live on while food that is exclusive runs the risk of extinction.
The blog also looks to set right some misconceptions. It is sometimes said that India is a wasteland of derived styles, tastes and presentations; that many of its best dishes came from elsewhere – Iran or Central Asia for instance. Hindavi, The Kitchens of History stands with food historians who have shown that far from being a blank slate, India has since the earliest of times been a fountainhead of tastes and flavours – playing with and adapting external influences, combining it with existing traditions, making it her own.
Megasthanes, the Greek diplomat and historian, speaks of Emperor Asoka’s dishes made from peahen and deer. Ancient literature tells us the favourite cuisine of a certain mythological princess was pulao with deer meat. We know that India’s spices, rice, turmeric, desi ghee, fruits and vegetables have become the cornerstone of the cuisine of many nations. For example, turmeric is indispensable to the cuisine of Iran.
The ancient craze for pepper underscores the idea that the story of civilization is also the history of food and cooking, and Indian cooking, now the mainstay in Britain, was perhaps the world’s first international cuisine. In the Roman Empire the celebrity chef Apicius wrote a famous cookbook in which 350 recipes out of 500 recipes (which included spiced flamingo and curried ostrich) used peppers and Southern Indian spices. To read Apicius is to receive the impression that to go to a high class dinner party in Ancient Rome was to go all the way to India laden with gold to exchange for pepper and spices.
India has given, India has absorbed and India continues to expand the universal imagination. We hope that you will contribute in recovering and reimagining the lost flavours of India.