Bagare Baingan, a Popular Hyderabadi side to Biriyani (Click for a Recipe)

After a preliminary search for the histories of such a ubiquitous spice blend such as Garam Masala. It was surprising to see that there is a distinct lack of historical sources. I believe that the overall lack of focus on food history is the result of the focus on political history more generally. Even then, the food that is being written about is typically centred on areas that are deemed to have great “culinary histories” a prime example being France.

It goes to show that Said’s original concept of scholastic and intellectual superiority spills over into the most basic of the things we do, eat. French cuisine has such a stronghold on the public imagination of what “good food” is, that we are unable to break free from the assumption at times. This is reflected in the plethora of literature on French Cuisine, from the mass appeal of, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” by Julia Child, to “Larousse Gastronomique”, a literal cooking bible for many renowned French chefs. Perhaps it is the history of France being the ‘bastion of culinary education’ with its many schools, such as Le Cordon Bleu, or being the birthplace of the Michelin guide. This perfect storm of culinary education and review makes the veritable dominance of French culinary prestige so difficult to depart from.

This is despite the rich food cultures, often much older and complex than that of the French, that exist around the world. Indian cuisine often seems to be hidden behind the generic (and at this point historic) assumption of the all-encompassing “curry” and Indian takeaway. Most see Indian Cuisine as monolithic, a cuisine that comes out of the subcontinent as a singular entity. The reality is far from that. The regional variations that exist in Indian Cuisine are numerous, from Aloo Baingan, prevalent in the North-West, to Bagare Baingan, a staple of Hyderabadi cuisine, to Gutti Vankaya, a dish often seen in the South. A single vegetable, Eggplant (Baingan in Hindi), is cooked with Jeera (Cumin), Saunf (Fennel) and Hing (Asafoetida) in the North, Sarason (Mustard Seed), Coconut and Peanuts in the South and Daniya (coriander), Sesame and Tamarind in the Central region. This massive variation in even the cooking of a single vegetable is a testament to the regional differences in Indian Cuisine and provides a strong argument for why it shouldn’t be considered a monolithic culinary entity.

Perhaps this generalisation is again the result of Said’s “Othering” and the tendency to ignore the uniqueness of a colonised nation’s culture, and subsequently culinary distinctions. However, this has some serious consequences for my research. There is a possibility, as mentioned in previous weeks on the general issues in practising Transnational History, that simply the language barrier has made it difficult to find sources without knowing languages such as Hindi, Telegu or Bengali. However, it pains me to see a lack of accessible contemporary and indeed historical inquiry into Garam Masala, one of the fundamental building blocks of various Indian Cuisines. A region with such a rich culinary culture surely would have more written about it.

The search for sources goes on, with much hope, and mounting apprehension.

Where Are the Sources? A Discourse on the Dominance of French cuisine
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