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Food that unites India

Zubin Dsouza

Twice a year I join the chorus of my hypocritical countrymen and wear my patriotism on my sleeve. Hypocritical not because we do not love our country but our hypocrisy lies in the fact that our brains, bodies and hearts do not work in conjunction when it comes to showering love on our motherland.

We go to a movie hall and stand at rapt attention for the approximately 53 seconds that it takes for the National Anthem to be played out and then we litter our streets with the empty packets of our interval bought popcorn.

Our abysmal ideas of personal and societal hygiene, our scant respect for women and our failures to protect the weak are epic.

There are many things that divide us – language, ethnic origins, geographical locations and physical features but there are only three things that unite this country into a massive cohesive force.

In no particular order, it has to be Bollywood movies, cricket and food.

Since I usually only write about food, you can guess the direction in which we are about to be heading.

Recently we celebrated the 72nd Indian Independence. It has been 71 years since the British left our shores and handed the reins of the country to locally elected leaders whose only job was to continue to fuel the surge of optimism.

Seven decades later, much of the original euphoria and hype has declined allowing the humdrum of everyday life to move in.

The jubilation and exhilaration only returns when either food is being discussed or being served.

If I was to truthfully answer the one single thing that could probably unite this land of extreme diversity; my answer unhesitatingly would be only food.

Food is part of almost everything we do. From the smallest meetings that we hold over tea, pakoras and biscuits to laid back vacation mornings back home when we wake up to a lazy brunch that includes freshly made parathas with lassi and the remnants of last night’s dinner.

There is no single food that unites us as a nation; that would be a sheer impossibility since the last time I was trying to chronicle India’s recipes and gave up counting after I reached the one million mark!

Also since a majority of Indians are polytheistic and we need multiple gods to direct our prayers to, it is ingrained into our DNA that one single food to be chosen as the sole representing signature dish of the country is probably not good enough.

We do however have several foods that cut through all our hang-ups and if I ever wanted to hold a peace conference amongst all the warring factions in our parliament then these would definitely be included on the menu.

In no particular order the menu would have dosas, idlis and medu vadas which are nationally beloved snacks that come from the Southern Indian region of Udupi. Punjabi samosas which are the crisp pastries filled with spiced potatoes and peas would sit alongside Maharashtrian vadas which are batter fried potatoes. There would be an array of chutneys made out of fruits, berries and vegetables. Taking pride of place amongst them would be the spicy green coriander and the sweet tamarind chutneys. There would also be Guajarati farsan which is a massive array of savoury snacks would be strewn all over the place and Lucknowi skewered meat and vegetable kebabs which were the favourites of the ruling class.

Mains would include Malabari parathas jostling for space with Kashmiri lamb rogan josh. There would be Tamilian stewed vegetable avial and Goan vindaloo. It has to be the proper vindaloo; just not the usurper version that folks have been making and littering with baby potatoes.

Curried fish from the Lakshwadeep and baked litti from Bihar would sit on the same table as Punjabi spiced yoghurt kadhi and Assamese ironba chutney.

Sikkim would be represented through their soupy thupkas and steamed vegetable or meat-filled momos.

Desserts would be a breeze since Bengal can throw their full weight behind this with the thousands of sandesh and assorted mishtis that they produce. Gulab jamuns would come in from Varanasi and jalebis from Delhi. South India would reluctantly share the recipe for the tender coconut payasam for this gracious occasion.

After the camaraderie and feasting we would indulge in the traditional Indian post meal event of grabbing a snooze. Although it would not change the pace at which the Parliament currently works at, it would definitely make it a happier place!

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