Any story of India’s culinary culture begins with an enquiry into its ostensible Indianness. The first few fundamental questions often have to do with the origin of staple vegetables and spices such as tomatoes and chillies. That both were introduced into the subcontinent’s basic diet, with the colonial contact and that too only recently, is common knowledge now. Similarly, herbs such as coriander have been known to have come to India through either the Arab or the Chinese route.
This kind of assimilation and consequent transformation of gastronomic culture underscore the ever-evolving nature of food, especially, in the Indian subcontinent which is marked by a myriad gustatory influences. Such sensual hotchpotch is the subject matter of the two very different books under review.
In a lot of ways, Turmeric Nation speaks to the current moment in Indian foodways, ‘where for more of us, our relationship with food is about choice’. The book opens with a clear-cut plan of untangling the ‘chaotic connections between food and identities’. This self-confessed schema further underscores the contemporaneity of the book as the consumption of ‘biryani’ and ‘beef’ and the corresponding identity discourse have lately saturated popular dialogue.