Covering the Coverage of South Asian Food: Late Summer 2020 Edition

It’s been a while since I’ve posted in this universally beloved series. Not since last December, in fact, when I finally posted my review of Priya Krishna’s book Indian (-ish). It’s not that I haven’t had come across very many pieces on South Asian food in the last eight months that I could have written about here; it’s just that with all the other shit going on I haven’t really had the energy. And so I’ve sniped and carped about a number of things on Twitter and constantly put off turning some of them into longer pieces for the blog. I do have a few percolating, however: a piece on the hidden place of caste in Indian (American) food writing and media; a piece about food and the tradition/modernity binary; a piece on food, diaspora and nostalgia; and a few others that are still no more than germs. I hope to get at least one of them out in the next month or so. In the meantime, here is an entry that covers a few things that have recently caught my eye. Most of these are pieces that I enjoyed a lot (a couple with a few quibbles/reservations); I end with a more critical look at two recent pieces on chaat, one in the New York Times and one in the Washington Post that may seem innocuous but traffic—to different degrees—in the depressing register of the exotic.  Continue reading

Ads on the Blog: A Request for Feedback

As you may have seen if you don’t have an ad-blocker enabled on your browser, at the end of July I suddenly enabled ads on this blog. The idea is to see if the ads can generate enough money to pay for (most of) the costs of hosting the site without becoming an irritant to readers. I use the WordAds service from and from the blog dashboard it appeared that I had a fair bit of control over where the ads appeared: only in the sidebar and at the bottom of blog pages but not blog posts. However, it appears that in addition to these locations WordPress randomly inserts ads between paragraphs on some posts. I seem to see these only on Firefox and on my phone and never on Chrome for the Mac. I’ve no idea how consistent this is. WordPress tells me that I can request to have this “feature” turned off. Before I do so I thought I would check with readers to see what your take on all this is. So if you wouldn’t mind terribly, please take 30 seconds to respond to the following polls. Thanks! Continue reading

The Twin Cities Food Scene (as Seen Through Where the Star Tribune’s Food Critics Have Been Eating)

We resubscribed to the Star-Tribune this year—we’ve had an on again/off again relationship with the newspaper over the years but decided to re-up for the pandemic coverage. As we have a digital subscription we receive emails daily with highlights from the paper and one of the features that’s been getting pushed regularly is a series called “5 best things our food critic ate in Twin Cities this week”. I think this was a new feature that debuted in February—at least I don’t remember it from the last time we had a subscription. The first entry featured only selections by the paper’s lead food critic, Rick Nelson, but he’s since been joined by another food writer, Sharyn Jackson. I’ve been reading it first with interest, then with increasing amusement and also a bit of exasperation. The series, you see, may provide an inadvertent window into how the Star Tribune sees the Twin Cities food scene. What do I mean? Read on! Continue reading

American Food Media’s “Diversity” Problem

This post was originally meant to mostly be a review of takeout barbecue from Ted Cook’s 19th Hole, a Black-owned restaurant in South Minneapolis. But before getting to the food we got from them last week I’d wanted to say a few things about American food media and race, and about food media and its relationship with blackness in particular—and that was before the Bon Appetít mess spilled all over the place on Monday. That piece all too predictably became a longer thing than I’d anticipated and so I’m splitting it out into its own post here. I’ll have the Ted Cook’s 19th Hole review tomorrow. Continue reading

The Food Commandments

Back in the early months of the blog I issued the Whisky Blogger Commandments. These were met with universal acclaim, made me highly popular, were wholly adopted and ended all problems in and with the whisky blogosphere. I have now decided that it is time to heal the ills that plague the food world in the United States. You might be a food blogger, you might be a cookbook writer, you might be a restaurant reviewer, you might be a features writer, you might be a chef, you might simply be someone who likes to talk about food at parties under the impression that this is something that appeals to normal people: no matter who you are, the following apply to you and will help you become a better person. There is no need to thank me (not that we prophets are accustomed to being thanked). Continue reading

Indian (-ish) and the Question of Indian American Identity

It has been almost eight months since the publication of Priya Krishna’s cookbook Indian (-ish) and almost as long since I first threatened to review it (though I did get around to reviewing some of its marketing in the summer). Is there any point in reviewing a cookbook half a year after its release? Frankly, the reason I didn’t get around to reviewing it earlier—after work and family obligations got in the way in May, June and July—is that with each passing month it felt less relevant to do so. However, as the end of the year approached and it began to show up on many lists of the best cookbooks of the year it seemed worth it again to go back and look at it closely. It is, as at least one Indian reviewer has noted, somewhat lightweight in its approach, but a large part of the American food media seems to still be ascribing it a fair bit of importance. I should say before I get started that I am less interested in the book as a cookbook than I am in it as a cultural text. This is not to say that I have nothing to say about any of the recipes or other bits of food information that it contains; I do and will get to some of that below. But I’m more interested in how the book tacitly represents the categories of Indian and Indian American food, and relatedly how it models a particular form of Indian American cultural identity. Okay, let’s get to it. Continue reading

Who Judges Indian Food Writing? (And a Couple of Other Annoyances)

Here, just in time for Thanksgiving, is the latest entry in my series of occasional posts that cast a cold eye on the coverage of Indian food in the American food media. (See here for all the other entries so far.) Don’t worry: unlike my previous entry, on curry denialism, this is not 50,000 words long (even though curry denialism rears its head again here). You should be able to finish reading it before the year ends.

It’s true that with the busy season at work I’ve not had a lot of time to look at food Twitter—my main source of material for this series—very closely in the last few months. Nonetheless, it does seem to me that there’s been less egregious stuff written recently about Indian food than in months previous. If you disagree please point me to things I may have missed, in the comments or via private message. In the meantime, here are three things that recently caught my eye and which I have some reservations about. One of them is not even strictly speaking from the American food media, though it does have to do with a Condé Nast publication. I’ll start there. Continue reading

On the New (and Old) Curry Denialism or We’re Here, We’re Brown, We Eat Curry, Calm Down!

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

Indian–eeesh!: The Marketing

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 MadrasThe content of much of the marketing certainly pointed in that direction. Continue reading

What the Actual Fuck? (Covering the Coverage of South Asian Food)

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

Against Family: Errata + Addenda

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

Against Family: Covering the Coverage of South Asian Food

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

Covering the Coverage of South Asian Food II: Mangoes, Instant Pots, Hing and More…

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

Covering the Coverage of South Asian Food: Introduction

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

Outstanding Achievements in the Field of Sales Excellence

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

Of Mangoes and Bullshit

Perhaps the lesson is that when it comes to mangoes you can’t trust a magazine named for a peach.

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

Coming Soon?

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

What Should Sku Blog About Next?

Sku, yesterday

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