A plateful of India

India is a country united by the idea that it’s a land of diversity.

But seriously, what is that holds us together as a nation? What is the Fevicol that binds us as one entity? What common force runs through the Mountain of the North down to the ocean of the South?

Sheesh! This is a humour column not a plodding school essay for the Independence Day.

So let’s cut to the chase and talk of what’s on the menu for the week: Some food for thought on the food that we have grown a collective stomach for.

Here is a small list that features viands popular all across the country. If you delve deeper you will realise the cultural and sociological reasons for these dishes holding such a sway over the psyche of the Indians: Yes, none of them actually belong to India.

Butter Panneer Masala: Butter, as can be imagined, is full of cholesterol. Panneer, on the other hand, is suffused with fat. Masala, not difficult to guess, is all about fiery spice. So combining the three, especially from the standpoint of the health of your heart, is as sensible as starting a Cliché Killers Club with Ravi Shastri as a fully paid-up member.

Still, for the Indians, Butter Panneer Masala is the main dish when it comes to the side-dish. So, is it so tasty? No. The other competing items are lousy. Take Rajma Masala, for instance. If you are feeling flatulent today, it might be because you ate Rajma masala two weeks back. Or wait, was it last year? This is how potent it is.

Then there is Dal Makhani, the chief virtue of which is that it tastes distinctly the same when it is in fine fettle and when it has gone sour. Also, on offer is Navrathan Kurma, a dish that features every conceivable spice and ingredient known to mankind, cooked in such a manner that you get the flavour of none.

One of the best places to savour the Butter Panneer Masala is, as can be easily deduced, at that cradle of North Indian culture: A traditional TamBrahm wedding. (The corollary is: it cannot be a traditional Tambrahm wedding if there is no Butter Panneer Masala in the menu).

Caterers at TamBrahm weddings apparently source their Panneer from industrial grade rubber cut to size to match classroom erasers.

Gobi Manchurian: You can hope to solve all the mysteries of the world one day. But the one about how Gobi Manchurian came to be classified as a ‘Chinese dish’ will never be cracked.

If Gobi Manchurian is Chinese then Katerina Kaif is Avvaiyar.

The truth about Chinese food is there are two varieties of it:

One, the authentic version, for which you need a sharp chopstick, less as an implement to help put the food in your mouth, but more to actually pierce and kill the crawling creature on the plate. Chinese cuisine, as far as I can gauge, involves no cooking, but only eating.

Two, the Indian Chinese version, obtained by the evolved cooking style of adding soy sauce to any item.

I mean, if you spill some soy sauce into water, don’t throw it away. You can package it as ‘Aqua Chinese’, the one that is supposedly filled with magical aphrodisiacal powers.

Anyway coming back to Gobi Manchurian, if a referendum were held right now, most of the patriotic Indians will passionately vote for retaining Gobi Manchurian even if it meant ceding in compensation the Brahmaputra and Arunachal Pradesh to the Chinese. You can’t blame them. For, Gobi Manchurian goes well with any liquor, but Arunachal Pradesh doesn’t. And, a dry Gobi Manchurian is tasty while a dry Brahmaputra is useless.

Briyani: This signature dish comes in two flavours —- briyani and biryani. But in general, it’s closer to being ‘beeryani’, as it is the chosen food after a few rounds of beer (or any other spirited beverage).

The greatness of briyani is that, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, from Gujarat to Gangtok, you can go to any part of India, you will have a local variation of it. By that what we mean is: you get to eat the same thing under different names.

These days in Tamil Nadu, Thalapakattu Briyani is, well, the flavour.

Thalapakattu Briyani derives its quintessential name through the bold taste and the unmistakable aroma that get imparted to briyani when it is called Thalapakattu Briyani. Yes, as far as we know, the difference between Thalapakattu Briyani and the normal one, is just in the name.  Or perhaps, the secret is in the menu card.

Briyani is primarily a non-vegetarian item, but the vegetable variety is a typical Indian compromise, which leaves the non-vegetarians decidedly underwhelmed and dissatisfied as it is not the real McCoy, even while making the vegetarians feel queasy as it seems almost like the real McCoy. It offers the worst of both the worlds, as it were.

Paratha: This is the trademark Indian bread, without which no meal of the day is complete, as we Indians tend to overlook the minor detail that it is too heavy for breakfast, it makes us too lethargic after lunch and is laxatively too active after dinner.

Anyway, the South Indian variety is generally leathery and hard, with the suitably matching name: ‘Barotta’. On occasions, and at places, it also called ‘Prota’. In North India, it’s also known as Parantha or Parotta.

This merely confirms that the tongue that is busy getting the taste right cannot be bothered to get the pronunciation right, too.

Moral of the story: When it comes to food, tang matters more than the twang.

PS: We would have added a few more items. But we also felt it might cram your plate and give you a Delhi Belly, which well is already ‘running’ in the nation from this week.