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samedi 25 octobre 2014
WHEN EXOTIC BECOMES EXTORTION: INDIAN FOOD IN MIAMI
WHEN EXOTIQUE BECOMES EXTORTION :INDIAN FOOD IN MIAMI
Indian Cuisine is an oxymoron, unless of course it is a compilation of numerous cuisines found all over India. Indian cuisine was introduced to the West by its former masters, the British, and it is that version and not the every day versions of what people in the subcontinent eat or what one could delight in some of their best restaurants.
The so-called Indian Restaurants in the UK and elsewhere has a history that in itself is exotic.
“The British have long enjoyed food with a bit of bite. And 200 years ago, an Indian migrant opened Britain's first curry house to cater for the fashion for spicy food
"Indian dishes, in the highest perfection… unequalled to any curries ever made in England." So ran the 1809 newspaper advert for a new eating establishment in an upmarket London square popular with colonial returnees.
Diners at the Hindostanee Coffee House could smoke hookah pipes and recline on bamboo-cane sofas as they tucked into spicy meat and vegetable dishes.
This was the country's first dedicated Indian restaurant, opened by an entrepreneurial migrant by the name of Dean Mahomed.”
The poor man filed for bankruptcy in just three years since it was not the custom of people including the colonial returnees to go out to eat, they had cooks at home.
Is the word Curry as Indian as people think it is? No, the word is much older in the western usage than the colonialization and its origin is also interesting. One theory suggests the word comes "kari", Tamil for sauce. However, an English cookbook, The Forme of Cury, was published in the 1390s. (Read it online with Project Gutenberg)
"All hot food of the time was referred to as cury. It came from the French word 'cuire' which means to cook."
Nearly three out of four Indian restaurants outside India are owned, the food cooked by BANGLADESHIS, and surprisingly almost all of them are from just one district in Bangladesh, Sylhet.
In UK, In Brussels, I have put this question to the owner: Why Sylhet? Why Bangladeshis?
"BANGLADESHI" FOOD IN BRUSSELS: LUNCH FOR 10 EUROS
The answer is always the same, when they arrived as immigrants, they were not qualified for many of the jobs available, and most of the men could cook, so they opened up small eating-places. In UK where the returning colonial masters already had established a palate for Curried dishes, and with the increasing immigration after the Second World War, these places became popular.
Why Sylhet? That needs a bit of digging into.
“A number of Indian sailors jumped ship or were dumped at major ports including Cardiff and London. These seamen from Sylhet - now a region in Bangladesh - opened cafes, mainly to cater for fellow Asians.
"They were self-taught but they cleverly adapted themselves to the British palate," says Mr. Groves.
And in the 1940s, they bought bombed-out chippies and cafes, says Ms. Collingham, selling curry and rice alongside fish, pies and chips. "They stayed open really late to make money to catch the after-pub trade."
And so the ritual of the post-pub curry was born.
"It took quite a long time for the British to recover from World War II," says Ms. Collingham. "They were willing and more open to try new things.
After 1971, there was an influx of Bangladeshis following war in their homeland, particularly to London's rundown East End. Many entered the catering trade, and today they dominate the curry industry.”
Dr. Lizzie Collingham, author of Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors.
Peter Groves, co-founder of National Curry Week
The USA, especially Latin American dominated Miami, is not a good place for Curry, and for that matter much of the other Ethnic foods. A good curry or a good Mexican Mole is hard to come by, even though one can get a tasty plate of Cuban Food, which to Miami is what Curry is to England.
All my excursions into the Curry world of Miami have been less than tantalizing to my tonsils, so I was excited when my good friends and eating companions, Dr&Mrs W, invited me to savour “Indian” food at Copper Chimney at Sunny Isles in Miami.
It is situated in a strip mall, at a corner of Miami dominated by Russian and East European immigrants who began arriving here in Miami quite recently. Asian immigrants are rare in Miami, perhaps because they would have to learn Spanish to survive here, so the few Asians who are here are professionals. Perhaps that explains the extortionate prices of “curries” in this Indian restaurant, the first I have eaten in the west not owned by a Bangladeshi, but by a turbaned Sikh!
Extortion in Miami: Rogan Josh 21 dollars, nearly 15 British
The prices were twice as much as any similar restaurants in London. The quality was not something to write home about. But it lent to some anthropological observations.
The owners and family were suitably obese, as Indian immigrants to USA tend to be, and pleasant in their singsong accents. The greeter was Russian and the waitress was Lithuanian, keeping with the neighbourhood ambience. The Slavic immigrants in Miami are notorious for their “mafia-style” practices and the turbaned Sikh has learned to adapt as well, charging twice as much for his dishes, offering nothing spectacular: ambience, service or food quality, in return. It is certain that I will not return.
I fondly thought of KANIZ Indian Restaurant, suitably owned by Bangladeshis from Sylhet, situated a stones throw away from Heathrow airport. If you ever find yourself overnighting there before or after an international flight I highly recommend this restaurant. They would send a car to pick you up from your restaurant if you call them. It is far more exotic and far less extortionate than its Miami counterpart.
I had chicken karahi the last time I ate there with my sister and just recently she and her husband dined there the night before they boarded their plane to Miami.
Dishes at Kaniz, average Dinner Price,
20 pounds per person, 30USD
Oh what a difference!
Outside India, the south Indian cuisine is extremely difficult to find, but it is easier to find them in South East Asia or the Middle East. Give me any day a Chettynad Dish or one from Mangalore and in Paris, along the rue Chappelle, for one third of the prize of a dish we paid in Miami, one could savour a good Masla Dosai! My own preference for South Indian food outside South India is Kuala Lumpur, where a plethora of restaurants owned and operated by Malayalee Christians or Tanjore Moslems would serve up authentic dishes of their regions of origin in India.
For the Mughal Inspired, North Indian cuisine or the Portuguese inspired Goan cuisine, the best place is London, even though I must admit I did have a nice Fish Curry in Lisboa, the chef was from Goa.
A good Iranian friend of mine, when studying in London, could identify the Persian origin of many of the “Indian” dishes, brought over to the North of the subcontinent by Moghul and Afghan invaders.
So Curry, like the word itself, is the food of Invaders and Colonizers, which the Colonized cleverly guised to sell back to their former masters!
Curry in Malacca, Malaysia. Prices are in Malaysian Ringgit, one dollar equals 3+ Ringgits.Lamb Curry in KL with Masala Tea, Price 3 USD
South Indian Curry eaten on a Banana Leaf, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.