Just as I said before (see the blog about Roads of today's India) I am trying to visualize India I left each and every day now when I have returned to India after a long while.
Fusion; has remained a favorite word in Indian fashion, cuisine, language, interior designs or in our complete living style. Fusion is unavoidable considering the diverse cultures we have inside India and the invasions India has faced in history by Turkish, French, Dutch, Portugeese and British mainly and the influences India has gathered from neighboring countries like Srilanka, Maldives, Burma, China etc, fusion ought to be the buzzword of Indian mentality.
Just considering the fusion in food today, as I consider for me food is a mirror of culture, changes and revolution going inside a country very subtly. The geographical, economic, political and cultural aspects of a human society can be portrayed very vividly just by considering the food eaten in that society. And speaking only of me food for me is not a necessity, it is a luxury, an indulgence, a hobby or a simply a way of life actually. I know you will brand me as a unfashionable glutton as boasting about food does not suit a woman of modern society, but then who cares!
I personally feel that we love the taste of food which we grow up eating, as youth though we venture out to different tastes and flavors but with age we grow a distinct choice which majorly consist of the childhood flavors. Then we say that our cuisine is the best in the world. Sometimes we don't like some taste, just when we try them for the first time, but a constant exposure to that taste, grows a liking towards that food in our minds. I did not like several tangy, strong flavored cheese for the first time I went to Europe but then slowly I started liking them.
We the children of seventies don't see noodles (specially maggi-made famous by nestle), dosa-idly, (snacks from south of India) dhokla or bhujia or pav-bhaji (snacks from west of India), chola-bhatura or tandoori chicken (snacks from north of India), rasogolla (sweet from east of India) as any thing new, we have grown up eating although we knew that they are from different parts of India, but if we just walk one generation back to our parents, they were not that aware of these food if they did not belong to that area. Cake, pastry, biscuits, puffs were also looked upon as western influence by our grandparent's generation but then it mingled quite nicely in the platter of next generations of India.
So what has changed in that scenario in last 10 years? Oh a lot has changed!
Actually for all those Indians who are living outside India for a long time and have got used to of French wine, Cheese from Holland, Breads from Germany, Chocolates from Switzerland, Olives and Coffee, Hummus from Oriental countries, Puddings from UK and big pieces of Chocolate chip cookies, Mexican cuisine and other fast food from USA and who also care a lot for their Indian meal of rice, hand made chapattis and dal (legume soup) and aam ka achhar (mango pickle), India is coming up fast to cater for them.
When I left India, cheese meant only of one kind made by Amul and the cottage cheese, which we call paneer. But on returning back I see that several cottage industries are coming up with India's own fusion version of European and American cheese.
Wine meant an imported luxury 10 years ago, I first got a taste of wine when one of our seniors from Kolkata went to Italy for an academic visit and brought a bottle of wine, I was twenty one then. But now the western ghats of India is producing wine, of course the actual wine experts pursuing these industries are still from abroad but Indians are able to get wine produced in Indian soil. Beer is also produced in India and is being exported also.
Fruits like strawberries, Wine grapes, Kiwis etc are grown here in several farms every year, they all started as test farming and then became successful business, all in last 10 years, when I was not here. After all many hundred years ago Chili pepper, potato, tomato (even now it is called bileti begun - Foreign Aubergine/Brinjal by my grand mother), Cauliflower, Cabbage, French beans, capsicum or green peppers, Melons, Dry fruits like Walnuts, Apricot etc were introduced to India by Turkish or British people. Now Chili has become symbol of India!
Now if we come to the restaurants, oh there are plenty of them who want to satisfy the western appetite of their clientele. Unlike the majority of restaurants a decade ago which used to serve a mixed platter of Indian cuisine heavily loaded with regional influences with some special cakes as dessert the restaurant now are more specialized (just like the professions). Many restaurant can be seen who offer only continental cuisine or only oriental cuisine, also there are places who offer fusion cuisine to attract specifically big groups (like office parties) where foodies of all tastes can get their pick.
I should also mention that earlier India was divided into north and south in terms of cuisine. Northern cuisine had strong Punjabi influence (effect observed after partition of India and Pakistan when many people from Punjab part of Pakistan came to India and found home in several parts of India). South Indian cuisine was popularly coined as Madrasi khana (food from Madras) by the North Indians (I guess Madras being the oldest metropolitan of the south, and the name was given by British officers, who changed names of many cities of India according to their own ease of pronunciation). Now restaurant chains are build who offer the fine cuisines of each small food wise rich regions of India and new names of cuisines like Bengali, Awadhi, Udipi, Chettinad, Goan, Rajasthani, Gujrati, Maharashtrian etc. This list will keep enriching as Indians are increasingly leaving their own states and going to other states for studies, work, business or just because they want to wander in all over India and many small uninteresting pockets of India are getting exposed due to increasing industrial, educational, tourism and real estate business, so the culture and habits of those pocket are oozing out too.
Snacks, used to be mainly of Indian origin, when I was in college, with some companies producing Indian version of puffs called patties and cream loaded cakes (owing to strong British influence) but now world masters like Mc Donald's, KFCs, Subways etc are visible in big and medium sized cities of India, although they have tweaked their menu for Indian taste (little more spicy, pork and beef are not that readily available). 'J' was very excited to go there for the first time but then she was utterly disappointed on testing her well known burger which was having a splash of chili chutney!
Fruit juices, constitute a main part in Indian lifestyle, specially during summer, but I was used to drink freshly prepared juices from road side vendors, now increasing concern about germ free drinking water and availability of tetra packs has increased the availability of packaged juices from companies like Tropicana and Rubicon in Indian supermarkets as well as departmental stores. 'J' who is used to of having a pack of juice in the refrigerator is happy to get her favorite mango/apple flavor in India also.
Packed and dry food like Muesli, Instant Oatmeal, Cornflake, Olive oil, different kinds of pastas, Pasta sauces from well known brands like Kellogs, Quaker (Pepsi co) Barilla, Knorr are easily available in supermarkets and actually some cities have special departmental stores selling them.
Chocolates meant Cadburys to me, but now although Cadburys hold a major share but Lindt , Ferrero and Mars are also available. To 'J''s delight her favorite Kinder eier (egg-surprise egg) produced by Ferrero which is actually an egg shaped chocolate with an yellow yolk shaped plastic box inside which contains funny little toys, each time a different one (to keep children and adults curious) is also available here now. They have changed the packaging and taste though to customize with Indian heat and taste, but the surprise little toys are still there which I guess is main attraction for 'J'. Chocolates were not famous confectionery before, they were only kid's happiness, but now small chocolate boutiques are visible on many corners where chocolates are prepared by the owner with infusion of local tastes like cashew nuts, almonds and figs and sold with special wrapping and smile, just as in small villages of Europe. These chocolates are entering fast into the adults life where Indian sweat meats were observed before. A packet of locally hand crafted chocolate with a bottle of wine is a common gift of today's guest to their hosts.
Among all these changes and fusion (and sometimes confusion due to excessive choices in front of you), I am glad there is one thing which has remained same from my grandfather's time to now in 'J's world, and undoubtedly all four generation of us love to drink that. That is nothing other than the coconut water just directly from the green coconut with/out a straw. Aah! this is a must in Indian tropical climate and will remain there as raw as it is in spite of all other changes.