Dubai: With its aroma alluring food lovers everywhere, the cuisine of South Asia is celebrated not for its ubiquitous uniformity but for its distinct regional and cultural variations. It is an immense melting pot of ingredients and flavours, each with its own distinctive characteristics, thus rendering the term ‘Indian’ food a misnomer. Yet the common culinary heritage that runs through the subcontinent makes its cuisine popular around the world.
The gastronomic tradition of the South Asian subcontinent has evolved over millennia, adapting not just to specific geographical, climatic and agricultural conditions, but also imbibing influences from neighbouring countries and from around the world. In fact, it was the fame of its spices, more than any other factor, that drew the world to India all those centuries ago.
In the years following partition, though travel and interaction between citizens of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh has been minimal, old food habits die hard. The grilled delicacies of the Frontier and East Punjab have traditionally been a big influence on the non-vegetarian dishes throughout North India. In the South, Hyderabadi cuisine is a great example of the cross-continental syncretic culture. And it’s not that these influences have been unidirectional. The typically South Indian ‘dosa’ is now ubiquitous across India and has even made its way to Karachi and Lahore.
The variety of vegetarian fare is immense and one could eat a different dish each day for a decade and still get through only a fraction of what is available. Other common threads running through are the variety of fruit, with the mango being a common favourite across the countries in the subcontinent. Milk-based sweetmeats are another.
When travelling abroad Indians and Pakistanis just need to step into each other’s eateries to satisfy their desire for ‘desi’ food. Interestingly, some perennial international favourites didn’t originate in the subcontinent at all, such as chicken tikka masala. In the UK, the dish is most likely prepared in an Indian or Pakistani restaurant by a Bangladeshi chef.
As connoisseurs of Indo-Pakistani cuisine in the UAE, we are particularly fortunate to have a choice of virtually every sort of food from the subcontinent to choose from. This is one of the very few places in the world where there is an almost limitless choice of restaurants where chefs prepare authentic and varied dishes from every corner of the subcontinent.
In the Indo-Pakistani context, where mutual animosities have unfortunately marked so many of the past 70 years, food and cuisine are areas of the most commonality and herein could lie the key to better days in the future.