Two things are seemingly guaranteed in discourse around Indian food in the US. Many non-South Asians will refer to it with the shorthand “curry”, and just as predictably Indian Americans writing about Indian food will periodically rail against this shorthand, sometimes going so far as to issue denials of the very existence of curry. Here, for example, is Madhur Jaffrey in 1989 supplying a Chicago Tribune article with its dramatic title, “Let The Truth Be Known: There Is No ‘Curry’ in India”. And here now in 2019 is Khushbu Shah with a tweet that reads “Indians don’t eat curry, colonizers eat curry. Never forget.” And these are just two examples. If you do a quick bit of googling of phrases like “curry in India” you’ll find plenty of other denials of its existence. There is only one problem with all of this: it’s not true. Indians cook and eat curries happily and have been doing so for a long time. Why then do some people of Indian origin in the West keep denying the existence of curry as an Indian thing, and also relatedly the existence and use of curry powder in Indian kitchens? Let me try to explain. Continue reading
When I wrote the first of my pieces critiquing Indian-American food writing I noted that I was quite looking forward to Priya Krishna’s then-upcoming cookbook Indian(-ish) which promised to cover ground not so very often trod in the American food media: Indian American food. That was last autumn. Alas, my hopes withered in the winter under the onslaught of Krishna’s rather disastrous extended promotional campaign for the book and did not recover in the spring. Disastrous, I hasten to add, from the point of view of substance and accuracy; from the point of view of marketing per se it seems to have been a great success. The book has received a number of strong reviews in the American press and has been praised and promoted all over food social media. I bought a copy of the book as well. I have to admit that I did so largely in the hope that it might provide the kind of comedy not seen in this genre since the publication of Rani Kingman’s Flavours of Madras. The content of much of the marketing certainly pointed in that direction. Continue reading
On May 13, 2019 Saveur, a serious food magazine (I mean it’s called Saveur) published the picture at left alongside a recipe for jalebis. As I quipped on Twitter, this picture explains a lot about the state of Indian food coverage in the American media. All of which can be boiled down to one sentence: people do not know what the fuck they are doing but feel very empowered to keep on doing it anyway. The picture accompanies a recipe (adapted from Pushpesh Pant) and both accompany a travel article by one Kiran Mehta on a jalebi vendor in Varanasi, Ram Bhandar. I can only hope that the proprietor of Ram Bhandar has not been shown this picture (and if it turns out that this is a picture of jalebis made at Ram Bhandar then no one should ever eat jalebis at Ram Bhandar). Mehta’s piece fits well in Saveur‘s mall food court model of global food coverage: here’s a random Indian thing next to a random Korean thing next to a random French thing next to a random Amazon thing next to a random Ukrainian thing and so on. It’s all touristic breadth, no depth. Let’s start there and work our way back to Saveur‘s crime against jalebis. Continue reading
Late last week I posted the third entry in my series covering writing on Indian food in mainstream American media. As someone who does not really have much of a food following—or much of a following of any kind really—I expected it would be of interest to a few and then sort of disappear. I was surprised, however, to see the piece get shared by a lot of food people on Twitter, including a number of people whose own work I find interesting. This was certainly gratifying. I am not in the food/writing industry and don’t really move in those virtual circles and so it’s nice to see that people who do spend a lot of time reading and writing about food find my views at least of interest. And it was very nice in particular to see lots of people of South Asian origin “liking” it on Twitter. Continue reading
Here is the long-threatened third entry in my series examining the coverage of South Asian food in mainstream American media. If this is the first one you’ve seen you may want to take a look at the first to get a sense of what the impetus for this series is, and the second to get caught up. In fact, in this piece I will spend all my time on an issue that I raised in the first and followed up on in the second: the seeming revival of the trope of family in a lot of current Indian-American food writing, or at least in a lot of writing from some currently prominent Indian-American food writers. Some may feel that this is not a genre that deserves this level of scrutiny but I take Indian food culture seriously and I am paying the writers I refer to in this piece—and the others I’ve critiqued elsewhere in the series—the compliment of taking their work seriously. Continue reading
In late August I published the first of a threatened series of posts that nobody had asked for: a round-up of recent writing in mainstream American publications on South Asian food (which effectively, and unfortunately, continues to mean Indian food). If you haven’t already read that, you can find my explanation of the impetus for this series and a bit of my own background vis a vis this subject there. Here now is the second installment. This covers things that floated into my distracted field of vision in September and October. Those who worry that the first post may have misrepresented my normal relentless positivity will be glad to know that on this occasion I come almost entirely to praise. This despite the fact that two of the pieces I am covering today are on subjects whose coverage in American outlets can normally be counted on to raise my blood pressure (mangoes and Instant Pots). But, alas, even my positivity has limits and I will end on a more critical note than I begin on: and again it has to do with my reservations about the limits of the genre of the personal, familial narrative in discussing Indian food. Continue reading
I have waited a long time for a moment that has seemingly finally arrived: a critical mass of writers of South Asian descent writing in mainstream American publications on South Asian food. This development—if I am correct in so describing it—has been accompanied by a greater attention in general in mainstream American publications—whether focused on food or not—on South Asian food conceived of in ways different from those in earlier eras. Greater attention is paid now to regionality, to street food, to what we might call contemporary articulations of traditional food. Of course, these things are not happening in a vacuum: they mirror broadly the transformation of food and restaurant culture in the US in the same period. The rise of regionality, the greater attention to vernacular traditions, the re-articulation of foods from these sources into elite foodways (and the writing about them): this has all been happening in US food culture more generally in the post-Bourdain, now post-Chang era. But I’m Indian and so I tend to be more parochially focused on what’s happening with the Indian, or more broadly, South Asian food scene here. But before I get to the current scene, a little unreliable history. Continue reading
It’s been a long time since I’ve annoyed a lot of people, which is a bit of a branding problem when you write a blog titled My Annoying Opinions. I’m afraid I’m not going to be entirely true to my branding in this post either, as I will not be offering any opinions here. Instead, I’m going to ask you, my readers—the few, the embarrassed—to share stories of the most ridiculous things you’ve ever been told or heard being told by someone trying to sell your or someone else a whisky. Could be a salesman in a shop, a distillery employee, a tour guide, a “brand ambassador”, a buyer, a marketer, an importer, an industry blogger or a bartender. You don’t have to name names (especially if doing so might open me up to legal action). And to be fair to everyone else let’s try to keep the citation of David Driscoll blog posts to a minimum. Continue reading
Yesterday I came across this piece on mangoes on the Lucky Peach website by one Rupa Bhattacharya. It is described as follows: “An unprompted email from a father with a lot of good information”. Now, while I’m not generally well-versed in the genre of unprompted emails from fathers, this one actually contains quite a bit of bad information and so here I am. My apologies to Rupa Bhattacharya for callously critiquing her Father’s Day post and to her father, who seems like my kind of bullshitter, ranging in one brief email from exact mathematical analyses of the correct firmness at which Central and South American mangoes seem designed to be eaten (75% apparently) to description of soil types to origin stories for the names of mango varietals. As to whether any of this is actually correct is, as any good bullshitter will tell you, besides the point. The better question is why a serious (?) food magazine would publish such an anecdotal piece and slap a “Guides” tag on it. I’ll ask this question again at the bottom but first let’s get the good/bad information out of the way. Continue reading
The first day of the month is usually the day I look ahead to the coming month, present a long list of potential whisky reviews and ask for help shortening that list down. I can’t do that this month. This is not because I am joining the group of whisky bloggers who are reconsidering blogging about whisky (more on this below), but because I am not able to confidently predict when my nose will be back in action. If you’ve been following the blog in the last few weeks you know that my nose has been stuffed up—at first I thought it was a by-product of viral bronchitis, then I thought it was a sinus infection, now I think it might have to do with tree pollen, which there is a lot more of (by several orders of magnitude) at our new house than there was around the old. I have normal days (on one of which recent ones I wrote up the Glenfarclas 30) but they’re not followed reliably by other normal days (yesterday was off again, today seems on so far). For someone whose life revolves as much around food and drink as mine does this is a rather unnerving state of affairs and I’m in a state of ongoing low-grade panic about it. Continue reading
Beam is bringing out a 13 yo rye that is to cost $300 and naturally Sku is planning to quit blogging about whiskey as a result. It’s the right thing to do. After all these years of blogging about easily accessible bourbons that anyone can buy and drink and reasonably priced 10 yo single malts, you can see why the prospect of an expensive 13 yo rye just doesn’t sit with him. Naturally, his announcement has set off a great deal of ferment in the whiskey world, nowhere more so than at the TTB, who are now facing the prospect of actually having to pay someone to remind the world of their existence on a regular basis. And K&L are doubtless wondering if doubling down on armagnac right now was a good idea—what if Sku’s malaise spreads and he stops blogging about brandies as well??! And, of course, the rest of us are wondering where we will now get the kind of loquacious, ebullient flights of fancy Sku was known for. Well, I can’t solve all the dilemmas posed by Sku’s threatened retirement but with your help I can at least try to ensure that he doesn’t stop blogging altogether. Please respond to this poll that asks: “What Should Sku Blog About Next?” Continue reading
Here is my threatened follow-up post on some of the issues that came up when I was idly looking up the history of Colonel E.H. Taylor for my review of his namesake Small Batch bourbon released by Buffalo Trace. Before I get into it, let me first say what this is not and what it is.
It is not scholarship or even journalism: if I were doing either of those things I would spend months or weeks researching the subject. I would read every book on bourbon history to see to what extent and how this material has already been written about; I would investigate the archives of the distilleries and of the relevant locations (Frankfort, KY, for example); I would read historical studies of the Civil War and Reconstruction; I would interview experts like Chuck Cowdery, Mike Veach and Reid Mitenbuler. I have done none of these things because this is not scholarship or even journalism (and should not be confused with or held to the standards of those enterprises).
What this is is a blog post: it’s exploratory, it’s speculative, it’s a clearing of space in my own head which might possibly lead to more detailed exploration down the road or it might not; hopefully it will invite responses from people who can fill in all the things I would know if I’d done the research and point me to other places to look; and, even if it’s all redundant, hopefully it will spur some discussion: there are subjects which even if already known benefit from regular discussion and I think this might be one of them.
I went on about this a little bit on Twitter earlier this evening but I can’t resist putting it all together in a blog post as well with a little more detail (this is why I am so beloved). I don’t know if you’ve seen it but the Daily Beast today published a piece by someone named Aaron Goldfarb on Single Cask Nation’s single cask releases that is quite laughable in many respects.Single Cask Nation, if you don’t know, is the independent bottling concern/club started by ex (?) whisky bloggers Joshua Hatton and Jason-Johnstone Yellin of Jewish Whisky Company (they also operate the Whisky Jewbilee events). Goldfarb appears to be someone who writes about spirits on a regular basis but it’s hard to tell from this if he actually knows very much about the ins and outs of the Scotch world. But I do expect a little better from The Daily Beast (is that an error?). Okay, what are my problems with the piece? Read on.
Prominent in the shared language of whisky geeks is the idea of “distillery character”. It comes up often in reviews, including mine. See, for example, my review of a very old Teaninich where I say that some old whiskies seem “more like examples of “fruity distillates put into refill bourbon wood for a very long time” rather than exemplars of distillery character”; or my review of a port-matured Benromach where I note that not having tried very many Benromachs “I can’t really speak to distillery character”; elsewhere in a review of a port-matured Springbank I put the term in scare quotes that clarify nothing, suggesting that due to Springbank’s approach to double maturation their “distillery character” always comes through in their whiskies of the type. And these are only some of my recent reviews in which I use the term. All of this would suggest that I believe in distillery character. But in fact I don’t. Or rather I don’t really know what it is I, or other people, mean when I/they refer to “distillery character” or if there’s any consistency in how we do it. Continue reading