Wednesday, 4 April 2012

The South Indian Palate and the North Indian Diet

Karnataka's tourism department had long back come out with a catchy tag - One State Many Worlds. Maybe they wanted to holler out to the world to come explore the diversity of different cultures & traditions in one state probably the size of Great Britain.

As a native of the historic state, I have had the privilege of treading its expanses and experience first hand the truth in the tourism tagline.

One of Karnataka's most illustrious sons and the recipient of India's highest literary awards - The Jnaanpeeth, Kuppalli Venkatappa Puttappa otherwise popularly known as Kuvempu pays homage to his state of birth and domicile in one of his poems as "Jai Bharat Jananiya Tanujaathe Jayahe Karnataka Maate" which when translated means "Ode to Mother Karnataka the sibling of Mother India". Truly, Karnataka is linked to Mother India by blood.

Well the similarities end there. Sisters have their differences and they often end up with sullen faces after a silly fight. Yes, I am rekindling the age old issue of 2 states.

One may take time to observe that we never get bored ever of gulping in the same kind of food for decades together. In fact, man prefers his Ghar Ka Khaana irrespective of his stature in society and from which part of the world he is. You dont deprive a yankee of his hot dogs, ham burgers and lasagna like you dont ever deprive a Jap of his Sushi and saake. The capitalist United States has many of its tax paying citizens working literally all over the world. Their craving for home food resulted in countless outlets of McDs, KFCs, Starbucks, Papa Jones and the likes across the world.

Like them Yankees, we Indians also move around a lot and we need our food to be delivered to us. We do not function as programmed unless the food is right. Indians have a fundamental right to Indian food. No wonder you see Indian restaurants in Europe, America, South East Asia and even China.

A brief profile of I, me & myself tells that I am a Bangalorean working in Uttar Pradesh. 

Bangalore as we all know is a widely cosmopolitan city and a melting pot for cultures found across the length and breadth of India. Here, there is a confluence of cuisines from Gujarat, Marwar, Kashmir, Kerala, Chettinad, Andhra, Maharashtrian and the North East apart from the local delicacies.

Having spent a good 26.5 years in Bangalore and having been pampered with carbohydrate rich South Indian food, my life took a sudden U turn of sorts at least on the culinary front when I had to move to Noida (New Okhla Industrial Development Authority), the erstwhile upcoming Industrial suburb of Delhi which was later annexed to Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state.

For me, Bangalore was a gastronomical safe haven and I never had to worry about transfats, excess salt, too much of dairy products as I was treated to sumptuous & delicious traditional South Indian dishes day in and day out. Well, the occasional escapades to nearby restaurants with family and friends to have "Chaat", "North Indian" and of course "Chinese" which was basically the Indian version of supposedly Chinese dishes, were welcome exceptions.

In Bangalore, the popular "Darshini" hotels are open as early as 6.30 - 7 in the mornings. Morning walkers who have made their regular rounds gather in droves at these hotels and have their fill along with a hot cuppa of Kaapi (Coffee) or Chai (Tea). Out of state immigrants and students also find it extremely convenient and most comforting to have a tasty breakfast and carry on further.

My previous employment often brought me to India's grand capital Dilli and I have had some experience of the hotel culture prevailing in this part of the country. I never had to worry since I would get hot breakfast brought in my room by a smiling room service boy.

It was altogether a different story when I moved here to work. I was in for a rude shock. The "hotels" here do not see the light of the day until 10.30 - 11 in the morning. As a forced bachelor, I have to rely heavily on the office canteen for my morning dose.

The human stomach undergoes an acclimatization process in the initial stages when the baby is fed, well baby food and is graduated to the prevailing home food. The human body is a marvel and it has the unique prowess of adaptability to adversities. However, it is in fact heavily Status - quo - philic. Any drastic change in its surrounding and it is bound to revolt against you.

Remember the Bill Murray  movie "Osmosis Jones"? For some reason I am not able to add the video from Youtube, so here are some screengrabs from the hit movie.

My situation is not as dire as the poor zookeeper (Bill Murray is one in this movie). However, Isn't writing all about exaggeration!

There is a popular phrase in Hindi "Ghar Ki Murgi Daal Barabar" meaning we always take the mundane for granted. But the one thing I have realized here in Noida from a South India point of view is that mundane is good!

The South Indian finds North Indian delicacies served on a regular basis, unpalatable. The innumerable dishes here all have 5 things in common - oil or vanaspati or butter (loads of them), paneer (the Indian Cheese), Aloo (your humble potato), Mutter (Peas) and Masalas (a whole battery of them).

I have always wondered why Indians suddenly lose their mind when it comes to matters of food. The Indian heart & lever is not designed to handle heavy traffic of cholesterol, Sodium and Sugar. Scientific study states that the average American's arteries are 1.5 times bigger than the average Indian's arteries. Maybe we Indians are so used to see swarms of vehicles choking our roads that we bring in the same situation to our hearts and lever as well.

There is so much of Aloo, Mutter and Paneer here, it has made me intolerant to so many of my erstwhile favourite dishes.

Of course, I do not argue that the North Indian cuisine has major flaws and needs constitutional intervention to make amends to suit the swelling populace from down south. Each and every cuisine has found it's present shape and form over centuries of evolution of local dietary patterns. Obviously people adapt themselves to the vegetation that is abundant in their region.

Another fact that I discovered to my utter dismay is that the hotels here mainly serve snacks and confectionaries like Samosas, Katchoris, Paav Bhaaji and Chole Batoras. Of course, you do get the traditional ones such as dal (lentil) & roti (Indian bread) along with a strange variant of Chaawal (Rice), but one needs to shell out a fortune to eat at a decent place which has an acceptable kitchen.

I believe there is some deep rooted reason for the North Indians to have acclimatized to their present dietary practices, but I am very confident of the science behind the diet of South India.

The Dissection of a typical South Indian thali reveals there are different components that together form one complete plate.

There is the Rasam which is a well known digestive. The Sambhar provides much needed nutrition through the various ingredients that go into its preparation such as Vegetables, greens, pulses and lentils. Then there is the curd which is a by product of milk in the fermentation process. The curd is a pacifier and it calms down your belly which would be burning with the sudden gush of digestive acids attempting to corrode your stomach walls. All this is served with rice which is a rich source of carbohydrates which is later broken down to glucose.

Traditionally, millions of households reserved the preparation of specialties such as sweet dishes and other deep fried stuffs only for the festivals which were strategically timed to match the arrival and exit of various seasons. This practice of control and discipline ensured that the family remained in good health throughout the year.

My earnest desire is for some entrepreneur to start an authentic and affordable chain of South Indian traditional restaurants in Noida which the common man can enjoy.

If there is a budding hotelier in any of the readers, please note the opportunity to grow in this business here in Noida - Ghaziabad is tremendous. Ask the multiplex owners of Ghaziabad, U.P who screen Tamil movies every week to cater to the huge crowd of Tamilians in that region.

My digestive system is undergoing a slow yet adventurous tuning process to build up a strong defense against the marauding ingredients of North India's legendary cuisine.

They say one man's food is another's poison. Hope my poison therapy pays off in the long run.

All said and mostly done, In today's world where there is so much demographic shifts taking place, I only believe a major gastronomical evolution is already making giant foot prints.

Signing off with a famous quote by a famous American Statesman - Benjamin Franklin - Yeah!! he is the same guy you find on a 20 dollar bill. 

-  One should eat to live, not live to eat. 


  1. hahaha.. should rely on "sagar rthna" a big chain of hotels in delhi..:)in holidays we used to get up forcefully late just to go hotels..

    1. Delhi is still somewhat better. Noida offers you very little choice and thats what we still do in the weekends..wake up close to lunch time

    2. You should try all those Bhavans in Delhi....i know one in frount of Kerala House, Jantar Mantar Road...its gud & well in Budget....I will let you know some more in Noida also....

    3. great then! let me explore some of those budget hotels.

  2. palatble a south indian thali!!!

    1. Thank you very much.. nice way to put it..