Monday, 5 December, 2022
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‘Indian food is terrible’: Why are we threatened by a foreigner’s opinion of our food?

American author and academic Tom Nichols recently triggered a massive debate on Twitter when he tweeted, 'Indian food is terrible and we pretend it isn’t'.

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American author and academician Tom Nichols recently triggered a massive debate on Twitter when he tweeted, “Indian food is terrible and we pretend it isn’t”. He was responding to a tweet asking for “controversial food opinions”. Nichols’s tweet led to outrage and discussions on food, racism and immigrant experiences.

ThePrint asks: Why are we threatened by a foreigner’s opinion of our food?

From Britain’s chicken tikka masala to America’s chai teas, Indian food clearly doesn’t travel well

Kaveree Bamzai
Senior journalist 

A foreigner says Indian food is terrible and social media goes into a paroxysm of rage, forgetting two things. First, many of the staples of Indian food are not Indian at all — potatoes came into the country in the late 18th century and chillies probably came via Mexico with Vasco da Gama. Second, with the professor confessing that he has eaten Indian food only in the US and the UK, it can safely be said that he has eaten only a fake version of Indian food.

From Britain’s chicken tikka masala, which has nothing to do with either tikka or masala, to America’s chai teas, Indian food clearly doesn’t travel well. In its regional diversity, it is baffling and in its variety of tastes, it is truly dazzling. But then, Indians have always had a problem with foreigners having an unfavourable opinion about anything to do with them.

Anyone remember Katharine Mayo’s 1927 book ‘Mother India’ and Mahatma Gandhi’s comment that it was a drain inspector’s report? Mayo wrote about Hinduism, but everything else Indian is a touchy topic too.

Tom Nichols should be happy — he joins a long and illustrious list of the famous infamous, from early V.S. Naipaul who saw India as a wounded civilisation to Maria Sharapova who made the cardinal error of asking who Sachin Tendulkar is.

Time to move on and focus on more important issues like, is everyone getting enough food in the first place?

Madhavi Pothukuchi
Senior web editor, ThePrint

It has been seven decades since the British quit India, and we’re still not over White people. It’s a weird relationship where we still care about what they think. Which is why when an American man criticises our food, we’re affected by it. Sure, we troll him and denounce him on Twitter and make clever jokes. We even talk about how they steal and appropriate the very same food they call bad. But that just shows we care. And that’s only because it’s a White person speaking. We still crave their validation, their good opinion, even though we know they’re not better than us.

It’s the same reason we, as a country of brown people, are obsessed with white skin. We still put immense importance on knowing and learning English, and our lifestyle and cultural trends are still dictated by them. There are other contributing factors of course, but it all goes to show that we as a nation are still insecure about our own culture, heritage, and lifestyle. So insecure, in fact, that a comment that could easily be ignored became national news in a matter of hours. Maybe, it’s time for everyone to move on and focus on more important things like, is everyone getting enough food in the first place?

If you must outrage, do it over the fact that the White man clubbed hundreds of cuisines as ‘Indian food’

Neera Majumdar
Senior copy editor, ThePrint 

If you must outrage over a White man calling Indian food ‘terrible’, outrage over the fact that he clubbed thousands of different cuisines into one ungainly category. There is no ‘Indian food’ — our tastes and flavours differ every few kilometres. But the ‘tyranny of the tandoor’ (as food writer and historian Pushpesh Pant calls it) has made sure that the world only knows India through butter chicken and ‘naan bread’. Sadly, the outrage has been over how dare he not like ‘Indian food’ and not the term itself.

I know several Indians who don’t like Naga food or Gujarati food or Andhra food, and yet it does not become a talking point. We Indians seem to crave foreigners’ validation, especially if they are White. On YouTube, videos of Americans or British people eating Indian food for the first time get millions of views. This, in a country where we have to Google what people in other states eat.

Also, is it really surprising a White man called our food terrible? For decades, Indians living abroad have been subjected to racism over what we eat. ‘Indian women smell like curry,’ they say. When my cousin was looking for an apartment in Washington DC, a man said to her that he is unsure about letting her stay because of how the apartment will ‘smell’. And yet, for thousands of years, Europeans knocked on our shores for spice.

This outrage could only take place on Twitter, which allows over-the-top acts to demote other’s views

Kairvy Grewal
Journalist, ThePrint

It is hard for me, as an Indian, to fathom that our food is “terrible”. At the same time, would I wager a war of words with a random White person for not liking my food? Probably not.

But would I do it on Twitter? Well, that’s a grey area. Our interactions on it are laced by overwhelming displays of intellect, some jargon and occasionally putting people down for having their own opinions. Somehow, Twitterati always manages to make people feel bad for holding different views from the popular narrative. What started as a reasonably normal food opinion has snowballed into an unnecessary debate on the social media platform.

I think that this debate would actually only be triggered on Twitter. To the extent that India’s leading food delivery company, Zomato was running around looking for the ‘unlike’ button. It would be hard to imagine a similar kind of row in a restaurant. Twitter allows and encourages over-the-top acts to demote one’s views. This is also assuming that the academician wasn’t trying to rile people.

Also read: Indian food fourth most popular in the world, a study of cuisine trade finds

By Kairvy Grewal, journalist at ThePrint 

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  1. I was just thinking that who the hell they are. Why they are debating on our food . They can’t eat their own food or they are workless . They have this much time to comments on our food.
    For us indian food is the best food in this world .

  2. Happy to see that someone really cares of what we indian care !!…Really it is due to sanskar of our parents and our school which taught us not to disrespect food and treat it well (btw they were also right as we shouldn’t waste it coz almost 25% population in india doesn’t get food regularly) ..But it had adverse impact on our senses and minds (by adverse I mean we can’t tolerate others disrespecting our food or you can say anything which belongs to native india )

  3. Waste of time! We have more important things to deal with in this day and age.If he doesnt like it WHO CARES! He should learn to keep his opinions to himself. I dont go on twitter to say american food has no flavor..oh plzzzz grow up!

  4. Somebody says something and there is a reaction. Of course some people want to appear unique so there is a reaction to the reaction. All condescending and supercilious. Print, can we please now have the reaction to the reaction to the reaction? Oh, wait. This is it 😊

  5. i love all Indian foods especially the spinach dish i don’t do hot though tried it almost died and the bread nann (?) dipping into the sauces goodness you cant compare come to san francisco or sacramento or yuba city ❤️

  6. We have been taking this shit ..probably due to our parents be humble and polite teachings. However it is a deep-rooted colonial hangover for the gora Sahab. Now we care a damn in fact we give it good as it comes. The best to understand this our cricket team it reflects the society and we don’t let take crap anymore we give back shit served in a Indian plate .

  7. Thankfully it was Nichols talking just about Indian food, and not Wendy Doniger talking about Hinduism or Salman Rushdie talking about Islam. World saved from furore of apocalyptic proportions. That said, it seems Nichols ate ‘Indian’ food at some Bangladeshi restaurant.

  8. It only revels Tom limited understanding of the cuisine. Have we failed delivery beyond just being spicy. This is an opportunity to reinvent get better. Thanks Tom challenging me. I would take it for progressing myself.

  9. Brings to mind an old memory. We took the children for lunch to Thai Pavilion. Nusli Wadia was entertaining Zubin Mehta at the adjoining table. After a while, Hema Malini walked in. The main virtue of Thai food is its presentation and colour coordination. Children wrinkled their noses and said, Can we please have butter naan, paneer tikka and black daal instead …

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