You love food; I get it. "Big time foodie" is etched across your social media and ever since MasterChef Australia made it cool, you're all about the flavor and the technique. Your understanding of dishes is deeper than your date's décolletage and you haven't yet met a marrow spoon that's as long as your, never mind. You're all about food, and you have an Instagram filter for every dish to prove it. We all get it. Food has never been hotter, even if you're posting about Gazpacho (always remember th, NOT z).
But. But. But. If you actually do give more than a hashtag about food, may I suggest (a politer way of saying demand) checking into -- or at least, out -- the Tasting India Symposium? This isn't a plug. Honestly. Indeed one of the founders writes on food for a competing media concern (inasmuch in an industry that has gained such a sense of self-reliance of late). But founders Sourish Bhattacharyya and Sanjoo Malhotra have, in the second edition of their brain (and stomach) trust, continued a conversation that is vital to the Indian sense of worth in the present as well as for the future.
As the old adage goes, ‘all the stories have been told, it’s the story-tellers who remain’. All right, I may have come up with that adage a few months ago, but it holds true nonetheless. A country as diverse and storied as India, with its kaleidoscopic culinary heritage, needs to be celebrated – the tales of its myriad people and their even more diverse cuisines preserved and protected. Other ancient countries like Italy, France and Spain have not only done this, but branded themselves as must-visit culinary and heritage destinations. Time to ‘Make in India’ surely.
And so Tasting India isn't merely remarkable in that it manages to corral various governmental bodies and food experts into a unified three-day rodeo of the organizations (including NITI Aayog, the Ministry of Tourism’s Incredible India initiative, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, National Restaurant Association of India). and experts delving into the country's tastes and traditions; it's more about the future and making India finally take its place as the preeminent culinary superpower in the world.
Where do we even begin? The festivities kicked off, most aptly, with a meal -- literally farm-to-table -- at the Roseate House's organic farm tucked away near Delhi's Rajokri Air Force Station and attended by food writers from all over India as well as abroad. An outdoor lunch -- its menu designed by Roseate’s chefs Nishant Choubey and Anand Panwar and all ingredients sourced from the seasonal produce growing fresh all around the table -- was presided over by Dr Pushpesh Pant, India's own Herodotus, under Wednesday's winter sun.
And while there was no lack flavor in the dishes, each inspired by different regions of India, Dr Pant's endless fount of knowledge elevated the physical into something far more cerebral, food for thought as it were. Digesting both, we moved on to the hotel itself.
Food wastage having become a major global challenge, the day's sessions included interactions with restaurateurs, senior government officials and most vitally, the young Indians who are actively combatting the issue. This included the two Class-XII students who work with restaurants and utilize social media and their student network to distribute excess food to the underprivileged. Which is incredible considering high-schoolers (ahem) are usually more occupied with attempting to get into their parents liquor cabinets and then attempting to get out of the resultant trouble than tackling food wastage and global hunger.
Given the subject at hand, there was also a ‘high tea’ with snacks made using vegetable and fruit waste, including potato chips made out of the tubers's skins, and an onion halwa, made using the discarded heads and tails of the staple vegetable. And then it was all about Wasted, a documentary narrated by chef Anthony Bourdain, the world’s coolest man since Prince Philip (okay, that was a plug, but it’s a really good show, you guys), dealing with the self-same issue and featuring chefs like Dan Barber, Danny Bowien, and Massimo Bottura (who owns and runs Osteria Francescana, one of the world's best restaurants, as well as the ‘Refettorio Ambrosiano’, a soup kitchen where he and other culinary deities like Alain Ducasse and Rene Redzepi use "food waste" to create gourmet food for Milan's disenfranchised). Making its debut screening in India, the gorgeously crafted documentary is an eye-opener, guaranteed to make you rethink your food consumption habits. And yes, Mario Batali also features in the film but hey, let’s keep it light. Unlike a certain Crocs-wearing creep.
Finally, there was dinner at Roseate House's Indian restaurant, Kheer, over chaat, kebabs and conversations which included exposing foreign food writers to the Bangladeshi origins of British ‘Chicken Tikka Masala’ and discussions over the shared history of ice cream and gunpowder. All in all, it’s been a celebration and exploration of food beyond the filters and the hashtags. And all that was just an aperitif.
Spreading over today and tomorrow, the symposium will shift venue to the India International Centre while continuing the cavalcade of culinary conversations. Madhur Jaffrey, the doyenne of Indian food abroad, will address the symposium as will Dr Pant, along with food writers, industry experts, royalty and culinarians like Thomas Zacharias who is the best Indian chef of my generation (here we pause for a moment’s silence for my advancing years).
Topics under discussion will include getting Indian cuisines on UNESCO’s Intangible Heritage List, the role of street food in promoting cuisines, increasing domestic as well as international culinary tourism within and to the country and other matters both vital and delicious. So seriously, how about Tasting India? You won’t even need a filter.