“We Indians are really good at feasting,” says Vikram Doctor in this episode of The Real Food Podcast. The last few months for most us in India are full of festivals and grand occasions. And, from Diwali, Christmas and Pongal, to wedding banquets and buffets, food is undeniably at the centre of attraction. Often, it is the attraction. There are several examples (think: live counters, vodka pani puri, men on bicycles serving tea in cutting glasses), but none as intriguing as the milk jugglers from Mathura, who boil milk in a big vat and then do all sorts of tricks that involve spinning and juggling.
And, what about the actual food? Well, there is no dearth of quality, quantity or variety. But, regardless of the many cuisines that you will find at our weddings, it is Indian food that really is the pièce de résistance. The larger point here, Vikram finds out, is how the pressure to innovate pushes caterers to invent new dishes – Methi Mutter Malai, is a popular example.
It’s not limited to just recipes. In this 2012 article in DNA India, renowned chef Imtiaz Qureshi tells food writer Priyadarshini Nandy how the single dum biryani came about – “The concept of individual dum biryani came into existence because of large banquets that went on till wee hours of the night. Individual dum biryanis help to keep the flavour and the aroma fresh without any mess.”
Even when new dishes or cooking styles aren’t being fashioned, our feasts often work to keep old traditions and recipes from dying out. In the piece The King of Kebabs, food writer Vir Sanghvi traces the journey of the kakori kebab. He writes, “People in Lucknow say that they’ve grown up with the kakori and that it has been a favourite dish on wedding menus for many decades now.”
So, what’s the next trend that will spring out of our festive feasts? Vikram believes that we’re going to dig deeper into our wondrous culinary treasures and rediscover dishes as well as the knowledge and skill set found only among traditional chefs such as the khansamah or the maharaj. “Feasting in India was always about balancing our love for traditional Indian food with a desire for novelty. And the khansamahs had mastered that art,” he says.
Listen to the podcast here.