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The Hidden Treasures of Euro-Indian Cuisine

Thursday, May 9, 2019, 12:11 Hrs  [IST]

What’s Euro-Indian? It’s the heritage of the European colonies in India. In this specific case it’s the impact that expat housewives had on the culinary wealth of our land. The Culinary arts are not just aesthetic, they are also pragmatic. It requires a certain intellectual maturity to appreciate Picasso. But any child can delight in a Spanish paella Valenciana. Having said that, paella is not a Euro-Indian dish because the Spanish did not establish a colony in India. The Americas were theirs to exploit, which they did very dedicatedly. This is why we have the whole range of Spanish-American cuisines leading with Tex-Mex. Both Texas and Mexico were, once, Spanish colonies. That, however, is a culinary highway we might journey down later.

Let’s get back to Euro-Indian cuisine.
The best known Euro-Indian foods are the very popular, and internationally known, dishes of Goa. This radiantly-beautiful state was the oldest European colony in India, and so its cuisine has had generations to mature, evolve and establish its distinct and individual identity. We would place Mangalorean and East-Indian food as offshoots of Goa’s Euro-Indian cuisine. The French, who sparred with the British for India’s riches, set up their own colonies, principally in Pondicherry. For some strange reason, Franco-Indian dishes are only now beginning to have a very tentative impact on our culinary scene but we see a great future there because of the established dominance of France in the gastronomic world.

At this stage we could be accused of avoiding the cuisine of our own community: Anglo-Indians. We have done so deliberately. The ‘Anglo’ in the definition of our community, given in the Constitution, sometimes creates the wrong impression that our paternal European roots have, necessarily, to be British. The Constitutional Article specifies “European” not “British”. There were many European trading colonies in India, as we have brought out in our historical novel The Lynsdale Raj. The British colony of Calcutta was on the right bank of the Hooghly. On the left bank were the trading colonies of the Danes, Dutch, Portuguese and French. We have spoken of the lasting impact of the culinary tastes of the Portuguese and French. Surely the Danes and Dutch colonials also left their imprint on Indian kitchens?

A very well-known hotelier from Kerala has confirmed that our reasoning is supported by evidence which his organisation has uncovered in Cochin. They have found a family of bakers who once worked for the Dutch colonials. The Dutch were the principal European trading power in Cochin from the 17th to the 18th centuries. That really was a long time ago. Nevertheless, bakery products produced by this family of traditional Malayalee bakers were certified as authentically Dutch by 21st century tourists from Holland!

No one, as far as we know, has done similar research on the cuisine of the former Danish colonials, even though Denmark had trading colonies in both Serampore in Bengal and Tranquebar in Tamil Nadu. We’ll leave that for keen young doctorate scholars to ferret out.

Now, we’ll turn to our own Anglo-Indian cuisine. Undoubtedly, we are the only recognised Indian community that is not associated with any single state in India. We are truly pan-Indian. Consequently, our food is a blend of the cuisines of the many European people who contributed to our paternal blood-lines and our myriad maternal strains from every state in India. As a result of this our food reflects the diversity of our nation’s people as adapted to our specific, often professional, needs. Thus, our dishes are named after planters, river pilots, shikaris, soldiers, administrators, and their wives. When they are attributed to a “Mrs somebody” it is difficult to trace the provenance of the dish. In most cases, however, Anglo-Indian dishes like Country Captain, Jhal Frazie and Pepperwater lend themselves to creating printed menus that could become romantic histories, and collectors’ pieces. As for the decor of the restaurant: forget the contrived Bhowani Junction style. That’s passé. Affluent AI families lived like the rich landowners they mixed with.

There you have it: an authentically Indian cuisine, specially evolved to suit varied European tastes, with a history that can be expressed in a variety of restaurant decors. What more can you ask for?

(The Views expressed within this column are the opinion of the authors, and may not necessarily be endorsed by the publication)

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