New Delhi: It’s not often that a common man’s food becomes fodder for debate on social media and the Internet. But that’s exactly what the humble khichdi has done these past few days.
A day after union food processing minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal christened khichdi as the Brand India Food on November 1, it began topping Twitter trends and became a much-searched word on the Internet, according to Google Trends. Heated debates started on the elevated status summarily thrust on the dish as well as the point of doing so.
But as this khichdi was cooking, The Sunday Standard was left wondering whether an over-ambitious attempt had been made to define India, a land of over 1.3 billion people with widely varying taste buds, by a single dish.
Harsimrat’s announcement set off a flurry of heated debates, unending speculation and conflicting opinions over the culinary identity of India and the unilateral attempt to define its food by one dish. Regardless, khichdi basked in new-found glory as the Prime Minister inaugurated World Food India on November 3, a three-day event aimed at attracting $10 billion in investment.
Alongside, naysayers had a field day lambasting the minister for her announcement while supporters acknowledged the importance of making the dish a ‘brand ambassador’. In the last few days, khichdi has possibly been spoken of more than it has been eaten.
“While I enjoy khichdi, to make it a Brand India dish is an overestimation. It is a certainly a comfort food, but not India’s favourite comfort food. Such generalizations are inaccurate and take away from our pluralistic essence,” said Gaurav Pathan, a rice mill worker whose factory is on the outskirts of Delhi, near Sonipat.
Social media, meanwhile, went on overdrive. “Khichdi to be national dish. Why? Is the nation ill?” said one. “Do I have to stand up when I eat khichdi now that it is a national dish?” was another. “Why khichdi? I would want aloo methi to finally get its due,” said yet another.
But between wit and humour lies a deeper narrative of how fundamentally undemocratic such decisions are. Raju Mohapatra, a diamond sorter in Karol Bagh, said, “I don’t understand how one person in power suddenly gets up and starts deciding things on behalf of the country. Was there a poll, a study… done to conclude that khichdi is the most-liked comfort food?”
Piyush Jain, chef at Molecule restaurant, said that if khichdi was popular, so were biryani, pulao, chicken curry and dal tadka. “So, to say that khichdi is the only dish that can represent India’s food tradition is incorrect,” he said.
Two days after elevating the khichdi from a sick man’s food to a national delicacy, Harsimrat said her intention was to replace the ‘curry’ with khichdi as the quintessential Indian dish.
But isn’t replacing one dish by another fatuous? “In a few years, khichdi will become the new curry. Will we once again think of something new?” asked Santosh Kumar, a sales representative with an electronics company.
He is exasperated at the remark that khichdi is a ‘neutraliser’. “I lived in Telangana for 13 years where I was working at a light manufacturing company. There, I was introduced to the region’s famous kheema khichdi. It’s a rich rice dish made with basmati rice, lentils, meat and chicken stock. Are these ingredients affordable to the poor?
“It is important to understand that the dish doesn’t remain in its humble form in every region, and therefore, cannot be the staple. Besides, has everyone forgotten that dal, a main component of khichdi, is often out of the reach of the poor?” asked Kumar.
Master chef Sanjeev Kapoor, who has been curating Food Street, an experience zone within World Food India 2017, begged to differ. “Khichdi has been celebrated and relished for years in India. From khichuri in West Bengal to Ven Pongal in Kerala, khichdi has united India in geographical expanse with its flavour and recipes through dynasties.
“It is definitely one of the most loved dishes in India and the world record only aims at making it popular on an international level. Therefore, its declaration as the Brand India food is fair,” he said.
India’s distinctness has always been its diversity. Flavours from the North, South, East and West have all contributed to create its globally loved cuisine. So, was it inappropriate to grant a single dish such exalted status?