A few years ago, I was coached with tips on how to make soft parathas. Despite the fact that I hail from the Indian subcontinent, where the item is a delicacy, I hardly try making this flatbread at home. Interestingly, the friend who perfected the strokes is from Japan, married to another Indian friend of ours. For her, the job is as easy as pie. It’s rather impressive how she takes an interest in Indian culture by trying out different recipes, visiting her in-laws during Diwali, and occasionally sharing moments with her lovely daughters as they watch Bollywood flicks.
An easy formula for making our lives more colorful is learning to appreciate and embrace elements from the milieu beyond our own. In that context, I often wonder about the intermarriage of cuisines. We live in an exciting chapter in humanity’s culinary evolution where things on the plate from different cultural traditions are fused and combined to come up with innovative dishes to whet the appetites of food lovers. The Tex-Mex cuisine, for instance, has met with wide acceptance. Nachos, fajitas, and chili are all cornerstones of this union. A fine blending of the recipes of the United States and Mexico, these and other Tex-Mex specialty items, besides hitting the popularity list in Texas and other parts of the country, are relished by the populace of neighboring Canada too.
Two decades ago during a trip to Atlantic City, my husband and I stepped into California Pizza Kitchen. We spotted on the menu Tandoori chicken pizza served with mango chutney. Quite an interesting combo of the Indian chicken specialty and the famous Italian treat. The CPK restaurants in my city no longer serve that pizza, and I wish that it would be brought back again because I truly liked it.
I have no clue when exactly my child, a fussy eater, started developing a taste for varied cuisines, for he is always on a spree to pamper his tastebuds. On his preference list, looming large is Indian-Chinese food that truly leaves him at the zenith of contentment. An almost fixed order he places is Manchurian chicken. This ever-popular chicken in spicy sauce is predominantly a creation of Chinese restaurants in India and is believed to bear very little resemblance to traditional Chinese cooking. Gobi (Cauliflower) Manchurian, chicken lollipop, chili chicken, and manchow soup are a few of the unique dishes that are a result of the adaptation of Chinese cooking and seasoning to cater to Indian tastes. Developed by the small Chinese community that has lived in Kolkata for over a century, this hybrid cuisine ranks as one of India’s topmost favorites.
Way back when I was doing my master’s, a classmate from Greece taught us how to make moussaka during an open house for international students. Once while inviting guests who were strictly vegetarian, I experimented by coming up with a new version. This dish, figuring in the cuisines of the countries of the former Ottoman empire, has eggplant or potato as its base and usually includes minced meat. I replaced the meat with crushed, fried paneer (cottage cheese) seasoned with Indian spices. I was a little skeptical about how the finished product would be, but it did meet with highly acclaimed approval from my guests. Thereafter, I have made it several times, sometimes also using soya granules as the meat substitute, and it has become a staple entrée when I am cooking for vegetarian guests.
I can’t decipher how much truth there is in the philosophy that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. The reason is because I’m married to someone who has a sense of good taste but doesn’t throw tantrums nor has complaints when it comes to food. However, who can say “No” to a good meal? Virginia Woolf in A Room of One’s Own pens a playful quote: “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” Creativity and innovation can work wonders, so why not extend imagination to the realm of food too? Variety is the spice of life, so it’s a good idea to explore the possibilities of uniting ingredients and cooking techniques across borders to spike up the pages of your recipe book!