The funny thing about Indian cuisine: Reshmi Dasgupta

(Reshmi Dasgupta is a regular contributor to Economic Times where this column first appeared on August 27, 2021)

  • Last week an American ‘humorist’, unwittingly or deliberately, caused a flutter on social media when he criticised Indian food as being ‘insanely’ based on just one spice and compressed it into that stereotype, curry. The world has moved on from that view of India — along with those other tropes of snake charmers, tigers and maharajas — but Americans remain largely ignorant. Yet a substantive kernel can be extracted from even the most ignorant of pronouncements. The cuisine of each region of India has a familiar, distinctive ingredient — not necessarily a spice. For some it may be curry leaves, for others it could be heeng (asafoetida) or a fruit vinegar. For many Indian cuisines it is mustard oil — whether it is Punjab, Kashmir, or Bengal. Such is the status of mustard oil — akin to extra virgin olive oil — that the Centre moved to ban blended oils from having mustard oil as component. Indeed, given the undeniable zing it adds to everything from pickles and mutton dishes to simple mashed potatoes, it is about time mustard oil garnered the kind of reverence olive oil and, lately, even coconut oil have…

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