Saturday, May 2, 2009

Anglo-Indian Foodways

The effect of the British rule in India i.e. the era of the British Raj inflicted a sea of change reflective in the foods, traditions, culture and customs of life at that time, so much so that it triggered a sub-culture within the Anglo-Indian community. Anglo-Indian – in every sense of the label connotes the marriage of the two countries and cultures, accentuating the distinct differences, juxtaposing the amalgamation of Western thinking and norms with the vibrancy and exoticism of India. While Britain was going through the industrial phase, India continued to be a mystifying place to the world, instantly overwhelming the foreign traveller with flamboyant, alien traditions, customs, practices, totems and morals that were uniquely and indigenously Indian, yet intricately part of every dimension of day-to-day life and extremely alive and evident in the local foodways.

Anglo-Indians therefore developed a cross-cultural identity, holding onto traditional bits and pieces from their British ancestry, of a lineage one generation removed, most Anglo-Indians in fact having never set foot upon British shores while embracing the glorious, infectious, colourful locality, adding, removing and even improving components as and when the liked to suit their tastes, inculcating Indian sensibilities be it in the form of fashion, festivity and most importantly food.

A point to be raised here is while Anglo-Indians encapsulate the intertwining of two worlds, displaying that heritage most effectively through their cuisine, the British themselves immediately feel in love with Indian food, taking back bottles of pickle and chutney, techniques and recipes and even the dry spices and perhaps an Indian cook or two! It is from this love affair with Indian food that Chicken Tikka Masala and the term ‘curry’ has been borne from.

Outwardly Western in their fashion, pronouncing both Hindi and English in their highly Anglicised accents, the Anglo-Indians came to coin a number of dishes, in fact an entire cuisine that in effect tells the story of who they are and how they came to be.
Following India’s independence Anglo-Indians were offered the opportunity to migrate to countries of the Commonwealth, the majority left India with mixed emotions making Australia or England their new home holding steadfast to their foodways as a reminder of their roots. Today our Anglo-Indian foodways is what makes us unique. Australian Anglo-Indians reflect this without thinking in their day-to-day lives where curry puffs and samosas have come to be part of the spread at the Aussie BBQ for example. But while the food is alive in the homes of proud Anglo-Indians the world-over, the Anglo-Indian community in India has sadly shrunk, and are a mere minority, perhaps a constant reminder of the oppressive rule of the British Raj. In the eyes of the prevailing caste and creed conscious India, the Anglo-Indian community is looked down upon and while Anglo-Indians world-over proclaim their roots proudly, it is not the case in India where being Anglo-Indian is frowned upon. Ironically, however Anglo-Indian restaurants and cafes do brisk business, receiving cross-sectional patronage, an effervescent symbol of the Anglo-Indian presence.

There has been resurgence in celebrating Anglo-Indian culture in the 21st Century, in the form of International Anglo-Indian Reunions and literature on Anglo-Indians. Several reunions with the latest being held on August 2007 in Toronto as well as recently published books that include Curries & Bugles (2000), Anglo-Indians Vanishing remnants of a bygone era (2002), Haunting India (2003), Voices on the Verandah (2004) and The Way We Were an Anthology of Anglo-Indian culture published in 2006.

1 comment:

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