Covering the Coverage of South Asian Food: 2021 Edition, Pt. 2

After a year’s hiatus, I restarted this series on the representation of South Asian food two weeks ago. Having taken most of 2021 off, I predictably had far more pieces to highlight than I could fit into one readable post. And so I broke the round-up into two parts. The first part, which included pieces published in FiftyTwo.inGoya JournalWhetstone South Asia, Vittles etc., was entirely positive. That run of unimpeded positivity ends in this concluding part of the round-up. This list too contains a number of pieces I liked a lot but it also includes some that I was more ambivalent about or that seem to me to participate in larger narratives I find dubious (I regret to inform that both curry and masala chai are involved). VittlesGoya Journal, and Whetstone South Asia are featured again but are now joined by some other outlets as well. Let’s begin with one of those. Continue reading

Covering the Coverage of South Asian Food: 2021 Edition, Pt. 1

It’s been a while since I last published an entry in this series. A whole year, actually. You might think that this is because there hasn’t been very much worth reporting on and that’s partially true. By which I mean that there either has been a downtick in the rate of publication of questionable material on South Asian food from food media in the west or that I have blessedly missed a lot of it. But it’s only partly true because in the last year there were quite a few pieces published that I in fact liked very much. The reason I didn’t get around to recapping them all earlier is simply that I am lazy and slow and the never-ending pandemic made me lazier and slower still. Now, before 2022 gets too far out of the gates, it’s time to highlight some of those pieces. The list is rather long and so I am splitting it into two parts. Today I have eight pieces that I recommend highly. The second part will be posted next weekend and will include more pieces I recommend highly and also a couple of pieces I had more mixed or less positive responses to. Continue reading

Covering the Coverage of South Asian Food: Winter 2020/2021 Edition, Pt. 2

I’d said I post the second part of my Winter 2020-21 round-up of writing on South Asian food two Sundays ago but when have I ever kept my word? (See here for the first part; by the way, “Winter 2020/2021” refers to when this roundup is being posted not to when the articles were published. While most were indeed published in the last few months the entire period covered in both lists is that since the “Late Summer 2020 Edition“.)

As I noted in the previous entry, this series is now no longer even pretending to be focused centrally on writing on South Asian food produced in the US and UK. There’s really no reason why I shouldn’t draw your attention to interesting pieces published in the subcontinent as well. This change of focus may have accounted for the uncharacteristic rush of positivity in the previous entry—the first I think since I began this series that didn’t include any criticisms. This entry too has a number of pieces published in Indian venues; but, as it happens, I do have strong reservations about one of the pieces in this list and it was published in Goya Journal. We’ll start with the positives and then get to the critique.  Continue reading

Covering the Coverage of South Asian Food: Winter 2020/2021 Edition, Pt. 1

It’s been a while since my last round-up of notable writing on South Asian food. I’d actually been planning to post the next iteration in December but as I kept procrastinating the list of pieces I wanted to include kept growing and growing and the task began to seem more daunting and more like work. And so now it’s the end of the first week of February and I have a VERY long list of pieces I want to draw your attention to. To make sure I finally do it I’m going to break this into two parts. The first part today will cover a big chunk of the list and then next Sunday I’ll post my thoughts on a few more, in particular on one recent piece that got a lot of love on social media but which I found rather problematic. Which one was it? You’ll have to wait till next Sunday to find out. Today I have nothing but positivity. Perhaps this is because I’ve stopped paying close attention to what’s published in legacy media but 2020 seems to have seen a major uptick in the quality of writing on South Asian food in American outlets. And, oh yes, as I said in my year-end post, going forward this series will not be focused centrally on writing in Western media; I’ll be including pieces published in South Asian outlets as well (I’ve done this occasionally before too but it will be standard procedure now). Continue reading

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

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