The Messy Business of Tacos – By Jeffrey M. Pilcher

This is more of re-blogging of a very unusual, but quite engrossing article in the subject line of this post , as the tagline – Unwrapping the history of Mexico’s real national snack uncovers classism, dynamite, and shifting definitions of culture- suggests.

The article has placed the history of Mexico, with all the implications of the impact of a strong colonial process of settlement on its natural , original culture vis-a-vis Tacos as a symbol.

We, in India, have also seen [ or shall we say, experienced] two distinct phases of external colonial influences – that of Moghul Period and the British Rule – that ought to have made a definite impact ob the core of of Indian  – i.e. pre- (so-called) – colonial-rules.

I am no way competent to judge the arguments or discussions of the article under discussion here, nor am I competent to talk of such issues as influences of external colonial cultures on the fabric of Indian culture. However, similes of most representative India food items – the two pan -India  dishes – SAMOSA and IDLI, and one that dominates Gujarati culture and palate – GANTHIA – come to my mind. I am not sure how much of British rule have influenced in the spread of [fermented] bread or how much of the popularity of PIZZA can be attributed to concerted efforts by COLA / McDonald-ism of the American and /or European Economy trying to spread their wings in India. But the fact, is that PIZZA has indeed become as much as THE snack item, or perhaps even more, for the young and adult generations of India. No doubt, a true Italian may not be able to recognize the pizza that is so fervently dished out on the Indian Streets or dhabbas.

On a similar vein, you would not find any cookery show on any TV channels these days  that now does not talk of  Thai or Mexican or Lebanese food, thereby assuming that the Chinese food is already an Indian food. Ia sure each cooking expert has subtly added the culinary wisdom of Indian cooking into these ‘exotic’ food on its way to Indian pallet. Again, I am not competent to even make a observation on the topic.



5 Replies to “The Messy Business of Tacos – By Jeffrey M. Pilcher”

  1. 50 years ago in my India (UP) no body had heard of idli, dandia (no food) and ganthia etc. we loved samosas though. Pitza also came in to the realm recently and that too perhaps with the elite and a little with the middle classess. the vast majority of Indians (I presume here, because I, we do, I hate pitza, chinese etc.) are still happy or habitual of old foods like dal chawal, roti sabzi and perhaps in the south their sambhar idli etc.
    Colonials had effect on food and also on attire but mostly, and most benificially (paradoxically) on the ‘systems’ introduced: that of land reforms, tax collection, zila, qasba, pargana, patwari, subedar, theseeldar etc by Akbar AND railways, roads, bridges, post, wire etc by the British. AND also education, but not the least. These systems gave rise to India being integrated in to ONE country and One nation now as against scattered entities that used to be here ‘before’.

    1. I do agree that both the colonial periods have created lasting and largely beneficial impact on India’s culture and society.
      What I have written is a mere reflection of the thoughts that came to my mind as I read the original article, which incidentally is quite reach in its analysis.
      Thanks for providing a platform to the topic.

  2. Do we have a pan-Indian cuisine? An ‘Indian’ restaurant offers you tandoori roti, which is not made in Indian homes, except for a small part in North India. Similarly the other dishes, especially vegetarian, have no similarity to what we make at homes. Perhaps that is the charm of ‘eating out’, that it is different. The closest I can think of something as pan-Indian is South Indian snacks, dosa and idli, which have become ubiquitous. ‘Chinese’ is soon going to acquire a similar status. ‘Pizza’ may not ever attain that staus – it should be possible to cook it by mobile thelewalas.

    Where does that leave British influence, who ruled us for about two centuries? So far I have not come across ‘fish and chips’ as an item in India. But interestingly, Britain today acknowledges ‘chicken masala tikka’ as its national cuisine. I happened to be in Oxford in 1998-99 for about a year, when at one of the social evenings I spoke about how India is returning the favour of England carrying ‘The ‘White Man’s Burden’ for two centuries. That was the time the raging literary debate going on there was between Salman Rushdie’s ‘The Ground Beneath Her Feet’ and Vikram Seth’s ‘An Equal Music’ – both having music as the underlying theme. The English cricket was passing through a crisis and the choice for captain was between Naseer Hussain and Ramprasad. I also narrated how Alec Stewart, after losing a match badly at the Lord’s, rued that India had the advantage of playing before home crowd. Britain had created hill stations. Indians have created Leicester, Southall etc.

    1. Thanks for bringing the discussion to a wider platform, since what I had attempted was only a sort of of-the-cuff response to the article that I was reading.
      In country like ours, where diversity is the rule – our [colloquial] language – ‘boli’ – changes every twelve ‘kaus’ – that binds the Indian Culture , it is but expected that our recipes also undergo subtle-to-complete, and indeed quite definitive, changes along with our ‘boli’. Outlook had done a full –issue [] on Indian cuisine- from Kashmir to Kanyakumari- and obviously, still, could not cover the a huge variety of items.
      However, my use of the term pan-India was simply to indicate[almost] ubiquitous availability everywhere in India.
      It is also true that The British seem to have ‘taken’ more than ‘given’ in so far as the culinary tastes go. Even their eating etiquette has limited influence on us. For example, I do prefer use of spoon, as a matter of convenience, but am prone to use hands otherwise where they would use fork.

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