Tuesday, November 14, 2006

How the Indian Masala is perceived in The-Land-of-Opportunities!

Cilantro (Dhania) is to Sven what Parmesan is to me. I can’t stand the taste and hate the smell. Only that I can not escape Parmesan because every American person true to his country bathes his pizza with parmesan while all Sven has to do is stay away from the Indian Restaurant. So, he hates cilantro but fears “Masala”.

Now, I don’t meant to pick on you Sven, and if you are reading this, no apologies as always. It is perceived here, in America, that Masala is a spice. It is referred to more as a proper noun than a collective noun. I tried at first, that the Chicken Handi Masala has a blend of many different spices that add more to flavour and aroma than anything else. The hotness is from something else. That scared them even more. The word “Curry” shares a similar status (not the scary part, just the collective noun part) in London’s Brick Lane but we will talk about that some other day.

Realising the popularity of the word “Masala”, I set out on a venture to the local Indian Store, the House of Spices. Indian stores and restaurants are mostly called one of three: Taste of India, India Gate, Taj India. This one is an exception to the rule, but the difference stop at that. Everything inside is the same, including the absurd prices. A packet of 12 kachoris - $2.99 (Rs. 134/-); Mothers Recipe mango pickle - $3.99(Rs. 179.55); Parampara Masala packet of Egg Curry - $3.99(Rs. 179.55) and so on. So, I look for all the items displayed and pretty much everything has Masala written on it. The khakra, frozen parathas probably send on their cryogenic journey years before they can see a tawa, the pickles, everything.

Now, if my friends happen to venture into this store, they see masala-this and masala-that, they will think all Indian food is masala. This implies that Indian food is no longer the subtle art of blending spices with carefully chopped and marinated food items coupled with a balanced diet. It is a spicy blend of Masala that will get you running for the super-bowl, if you know what I mean ;-). This is true to an extent. In the Indian restaurants, you will find food that you normally find in restaurants in India: Tikka Masalas, Biriyanis and Koftas. The food that makes Indian culture, that we grow up on, the Shukto, Aalu Bhate, Dal Tadka, aalu bhaja, Saguti Wade, pomfret fry and finish everything off with kokam kadi is not available in restaurants. Southern American cuisine, however, is available in restaurants just like they are at home. Of course, they lack the Mother’s touch, but they are at least available.

I wish the local Indian restaurant would serve shukto and saguti wade. That’s the Masala I want. That will be a good portrayal of the Indian Culture. For the time being, I settle for Cajun stuff and country fried chicken. That is a good southern American meal. Give me some pumpkin bread and butter with the country fried chicken and mashed potatoes and I will eat till my buttons pop out.

Most Indians do a mean thing when they come into this country; they think and believe that Americans have no culture. That is downright unfair. If you want to know a culture, start with the food. I believe culture influences food to a great extent and if you start with the food, not only will you have a good time, but will also find a culture that you didn’t think existed.

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