Saturday, July 31, 2010

Two articles on cuisine

In a wide ranging book review Down to the Last Cream Puff Steven Shapin says:
"In standard histories of the rise of the French restaurant, chefs to aristocratic houses, cut loose from their ancien rĂ©gime patrons by the Revolution, went in successful search of a bourgeois clientele. The business of fine dining was therefore underpinned by an expansion of the public seeking good things to eat. Steinberger, however, seems to think that French social democracy eroded the economic inequalities on which the haute cuisine business necessarily depends: ‘Chefs need prosperous patrons. Notwithstanding their other effects, the Reagan and Thatcher eras made the rich richer and spawned vast new wealth, money that bankrolled gastronomic revolutions in the United States and Britain.'
In Mirchi Maestros Anvar Alikhan says:
"To be accurate, however, one should not speak of Andhra cuisine, one should speak of cuisines—in the plural—for there are actually three different sub-cuisines: from Telangana, coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema, respectively. The first is influenced by Hyderabad’s Muslim cuisine; the second places an emphasis on the region’s wonderful seafood; the third is even more fiery than the other two, in keeping perhaps with the aggressive, macho culture of that region. Unlike Hyderabadi cuisine, Andhra cuisine never had the advantage of court patronage, which played an important role in the evolution of certain Indian cuisines. Instead, it was always essentially the food of the common man—which is why it remained so simple, earthy and robust. (It is interesting to wonder what would have happened if, for example, the aristocracy of Telangana had asserted more culinary independence, instead of adopting Mughlai cuisine? Or if the intrinsically Telugu Vijayanagara empire had survived a couple of centuries longer?)

Some years ago Camellia Panjabi had set up an interesting new restaurant in Hyderabad, called Dakhni, which attempted to recreate the old cuisines of the Deccan, from places like Telangana and Bijapur. An exciting concept but, alas, it never took off. Today, Andhra cuisine is on an upswing, as is obvious from the growing popularity of Andhra restaurants in other parts of India, as well. Hyderabadi cuisine, on the other hand, is in slow decline. It was never available in eating houses, only in people’s homes. But the traditional cooks in those homes are now fading into the sunset, and the women of the house are no longer able to pursue the cuisine with the time and commitment that it requires. The result is that the everyday food that’s eaten today is increasingly of the generic dal-chawal-chicken-curry variety. In a decade or so, one of India’s great cuisines may well be extinct. And that is the pity."

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