A Manifesto Against Paneer (and other stories)

Like a lot of food blogs (and a lot of food writing in general) out there, the very necessity (yes!) of this, of me writing about, dreaming about, pining for a plate of  bhata-dalma, began when I packed my bags and left home. 

I came to Delhi from Orissa to pursue my Masters in Sociology.  For a while I was quite happy here. Quite happy that I didn’t have to live a life with dull, unattractive mounds that my mother spooned onto my plate. That for me was Oriya food. Or so I thought. Who wanted to eat a dull dalma and thin fish curry when there was that fiery red plate of Chicken Butter Masala, that siren dressed in cream and giving you that “come hither” look. Not me! Oh no, I was quite happy here, thank you very much. But soon it all wore off. I had enough of chole bhature. Enough of kadhai paneer.( And why indeed was kadhi pakoda invented? Why?) I started dreaming about food then. Food from home. Of that smell when pancha phoran hits that kadhai of mustard oil and you know thats all that a huge mound of vegetables needs to transform into something spectacular. So simple  and yet so fulfilling. I started getting dreamy-eyed about pakhala and maccha bhaja. Yearning for a sight of chota maccha besara. Of those littlelittle, tiny little, sliver little fish swimming in a mustard base.  I wanted someone to airlift me from this land of paneer matar. And paneer butter. And butter something else. I started giving dirty looks to people who said anything against my food. Started crossing swords with absolute strangers on the train.

Aap batao, kya khate ho aap jo bol rahe ho Orissa mein khana nahi milta?

Arre itti acchi sabzi khate hain hum. Winter mein mix-veg le lo. Gajar dalten hain. Matar dalte hain. Paneer dalte hain…

Aur?

Kadhi pakore kya sahi lagta hain! Special hai hamara!

Isko khana bol rahe ho aap? Gajar. Matar. Paneer. Bas. Huh. Pata hai Orissa mein kya milta hai? Kya khate hain hum?

They obviously didn’t share their food with me.

Have I turned into a food fascist? Probably not. But my love affair with North Indian khana is definitely over. I do acknowledge it, like old lovers eventually do, when they encounter each other.  I will occasionally even go out and allow myself to be charmed by melt in the mouth kakori, be willing to order in a “quarter butter chicken”. But I eventually rationalize the whole episode by saying to myself  “Its just that time of the month”.

So, yes, I will mostly be blogging about my food. Yes, it will be about Oriya food, but it will also be about the food that I have encountered elsewhere. About other regional dishes that I have come to love. And about some meal-in-a-bowl dinners that I mostly eat.

Even though I have been tempted to take tangents into the sociology of food, to talk about the whys and hows of different aspects while writing this blog, I have tried (really hard!) to keep it accessible to everyone. I don’t wish to take you away from your plate of butter-chicken. I am sure you have happy memories of that. But do step out and try something that’s not just curry. Discover the searing heat of a bowl of Naga style Raja-Mirchi Chicken. If there ever was a gastronomic version of S&M (as someone put it), I am sure this would be it.

Reason enough to step out?

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23 thoughts on “A Manifesto Against Paneer (and other stories)

  1. Personal Concerns

    Someone who knows so little about Odisha (and therefore about Odiya food) this one seems to be a most most warmly welcoming forum. I am tuned in MTJC!

    I am polishing my swords too! Be prepared!

    Best!

    Reply
  2. Namrata

    wow!! i’m really looking forward to this blog!love the intro suchi! :P yeah..i remember the sonthala u made..out of sheer frustration from lobia and kadhi pakoda! ha ha! was a breath of fresh air!

    Reply
  3. ingellei

    nothing quite beats the ‘taste of home’ for sure. i am not quite sure if i ever had a love affair with north indian food to start with though. the only thing i really do enjoy is tandoori chicken but i just cannot stand any of the paneer (cottage cheese) dishes! i’d rather have the vegetables anytime (and i am one of those persons who would preferably never order anything veg while eating out).
    looking forward to knowing about food from orissa

    Reply
  4. Faisal Syed

    We all fall back in love with our native cuisine post-Delhi experience. Your narration and the way it is intertwined with personal experiences is what I look forward to on this blog.

    On paneer, I have always maintained that it is a fake-chicken supplement for vegetarians in north India. Why else all the prefixes of paneer dishes go with chicken too. Shahi, Butter, Tandoor, Malai and not to mention the suffix Tikka.

    Paneer is also the most stubborn of all the sabzis (It is not a sabzi actually!) in the sense that it has thick fire walls which will never get it immersed itself into any masala. With Paneer Tikka, the fire walls just get a little burnt.

    No offence to the Dlehi Dhabas :)

    Reply
    1. More Than Just Curry Post author

      Sabzi mein kya hai?
      Paneer, Chole

      This has to count as a serious mistake in the classificatory system of North Indian cuisine. A big taxonomic error of an early Aryan scientist ;) How else does one explain this?

      Reply
  5. Paroma Sen

    I am really looking forward to all your updates. I would love to know more than just curry.All the Best.

    Reply
  6. INDIAN

    Aahhh,,,

    Being in annaland (chaen-nahin = CHENNAI) i really crave for the humble pakhala, saaga bhaja, and of course santula, n not to forget badee churaa.. Maam, you brought back some sweet memories of my wonderful days i spent in odisha before getting into SOUTH. And one more thing i’d like to share here. People out there , be it in delhi, chennai, mumbai or pune are so ill informed about our culture and food. They confuse us with our more priviledged neighbours (the BANGALEES ) They actually have a misconception about our identity . The all famous “RASHOGULLA” as they say it , is actually an “ODIYA” dish not a “bangalee” dish …

    Reply
      1. More Than Just Curry Post author

        We believe we make them better! Some food historians actually believe that the rosagula actually traveled from Orissa to Bengal via the Oriya cooks who were employed as cooks in wealthy households in Calcutta.

      2. faisal (@_syedfaisal)

        However, since Bengalis claim oriyas to be one of the bengali offshoots culturally, its hard to assign a distinction to oriya rosogullas particularly! Moreover, cooks always cook overlord’s cuisine and follow their method (as much as we know, especially about the mughlai dishes and all as cooks were brought in from the parts of central asia etc to retain the cuisine tradition). It would be interesting to actually discover, traditional overlords experimenting some other cuisines at home. I should also plead my ignorance in the history oriya and bengali cultures in general. Speaking more from a generally known opinions.

      3. More Than Just Curry Post author

        This is what wiki has to say:

        “In the middle of the nineteenth century, the popularity of rasgulla spread to neighboring West Bengal.This was during a period when Bengali cuisine borrowed heavily from Oriya culinary traditions.A sweet seller named Haradhan Moira may have introduced the dish to Bengal. In the year 1868, Nobin Chandra Das, a local confectioner of Kolkata, simplified the recipe to make sponge rasgullas.His son, K.C.Das started canning the product leading to wider accessibility”
        (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rasgulla)

        Also you might want to see this:
        http://lifestyle.iloveindia.com/lounge/history-of-rasgulla-2327.html

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