BHUBANESWAR: Food writing should not be restricted to restaurant reviews alone. It should rather provide an intriguing account of culture, lifestyle and tradition. This was what the celebrated speakers, Pushpesh Pant, Nishant Choubey and Sourish Bhattacharya, concluded at a session, ‘Indian food is great so why is Indian food writing largely unapaletable’, at the 6th Odisha Literary Festival, 2017 in Bhubaneswar on Sunday.“You should stick to learning more about India through writings on food. So, when it comes to food writing, it shouldn’t be confused with reviews on Websites, which are a critical analysis of a restaurant’s ambience or it’s food quality,” said food journalist, Sourish Bhattacharya.
As he spoke, Pushpesh Pant, the famed food scholar, embellished his speech with interesting anecdotes from various literary works which despite exploring an underlying theme talk of Indian food. Wearing his knowledge lightly, Pant insists that one of the best food writings have actually been penned down by novelists and authors and not by food critics. To illustrate his point, he refers to the enticing description of roti being baked in a chullah by Munsi Premchand in his short story, Idgah. “Food writing is not about documenting recipes. Food should be evoked through writing. Like, how Rushdie did in his novel Shame,” Pant said.
The speakers also delivered on the significance of home cooking. For celebrity Chef Nishant Choubey, ‘food starts at home.’ “India has so much of greenery around. So, let’s just go back to our roots. In Bangkok, there’s an initiative called Royal Market, from where the chef has to pick up at least one vegetable or fruit for his dish. The market has fresh vegetables being sold directly by the farmers, without any adulteration. Trust me, the dish that is made with these stuff are is the first one to be sold out there. In India people should change their mindset.
I have come across guests who will never take an unwaxed apple from the hills. They want the polished ones! But, those aren’t good for your health as it has chemicals,” Choubey, the crusader of healthy foods, explained. Not just that, Choubey urged the audience to use the Indian names for the native spices to popularise Indian cuisine. “Why don’t we call jeera as jeera instead of refering to it as cumin or haldi for haldi and not turmeric. This will globalise and popularise Indian cuisine. In America, turmeric latte has become a national drink,” Choubey added.
On a positive note, the speakers unanimously agreed that food writing in India has made food and chefs respectable in the country. It has changed people’s attitude towards chefs, who were earlier ‘rememberd only when things went wrong.’ However, they also observed that Indian cuisine of certain regions, like Odisha, have remained unexplored at the global level due to the lack of documentation. As Sourish points it out, perhaps the confusion over rasagolla’s origin, that sparked war of words between Bengalis and Odias on social media, cropped up due to sparse literature.