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Our Ancient Food Culture

A serving of Idli, Vada and Sambhar on a Banana leave

Throughout the ages, the geographical diversity of Bharat has contributed to immense diversity and variety of food habits and staple food. However, the exchange of food habits among the people has significantly contributed to an intrinsic unity

How old is the dosa or masala dosa that has made the world go crazy after it? Nobody can tell surely, but certainly it is 2000 years old! Thus, as one explores the known resources and documents of history, one gets to know that the tastiest dosa was eaten in south India about 2000 years ago.

It is very important. The richness of Bharatiya culture did not contain architecture alone, not only arts and theatre; it did not have just spirituality in it but encompassed even a rich food culture. Of course, it was perfected with all aspects of life.

Our ancestors had given deep thoughts to the food culture. Bharatiya culinary science had propounded all the things, thousands of years ago, that culinary science says today. Our forefathers wrote a few thousand years ago that ‘diet and body, diet and mind, diet and attitude of mind are related to each another’. It is amazing. No reference of any such thing is found even remotely in the Greek, Egyptian or Chinese culture that was advanced during those days.

The book Bhagavad Gita is estimated to be at least 5000 to 6000 years old. Even going by the guesses by the western scholars, it is certain that Gita had been written for at least 2500 to 3000 years ago. In the 17th Adhyay of Gita have shlokas 8, 9 and 10 explain the consequences diet on our life. The persons have three types of nature—sattvic, rajasic and tamasic—show a tendency to consume three types of foods. And their deeds follow the three mental attitudes as well.

Diverse Food Culture

Ours is a country with a perfect, scientific and ancient food culture. References are found in the books since even Rigveda. Statements like ‘Yajasvam tatram tatsvam…’ (Nourish your body and honour it) appear many times. It is also mentioned that the meal should contain of wheat, barley and milk. The sukta 140/2 of the sixth adhyay of Atharvaveda says, ‘Food made from rice, barley, urad and sesame is the right food.’

Many pieces of evidence corroborating the claims in these books have been found in the excavations at Mehergad, Harappa and Mohenjo-daro. According to them, our ancestors used to eat certain things made from wheat, barley, milk et cetera about 8000 years ago. Interestingly, In Indian cuisine they have been using cinnamon and black pepper for few thousand years.

Meherangarh is a small village in Balochistan in the present day Pakistan. Jean-François Jarige, a French archaeologist, started first excavation here in 1974 and he found remains of 7000 year old village. Significantly, hard evidence of oldest farming in the world was found in the excavation. Of course, it may be said on the evidence available today that the concept of ‘farming’ was introduced in the Indian subcontinent of the entire world.

Growing different pulses (lentil, tur etc.), taking wheat, processing the wheat (means grinding it) and making atta from it, making different recipes of that wheat…all this is taking place since 8000-9000 years ago.

Bharatvasis had discovered spices like black pepper, cinnamon, bay leaf, coriander etc. thousands of years ago. Later, different recipes came up in Indian as per different geographical features. These recipes were tasty, which is why this Bharatiya foodstuff enticed foreign travellers even a few thousand years ago. Angus Madison, originally from Britain, was a Professor of Economics at Groningen University in Holland. He has written a beautiful book on the global economy, ‘The World Economy—A Millennium Perspective’ and it is considered to be the standard reference in many universities. He has written in the book that 15000 years ago from today the goods going out from India passed through mainly two cities in Italy—Genoa and Venice. And both these cities were considered to be the richest cities in Europe at the time because of this trade. The goods that caused this affluence to these cities mainly included – Bharatiya spices!

However, the Bharatiya spices were used mostly in Europe in the recipes involving cooking meat of the animals. The Westerners could not handle the technique cooking vegetarian recipes. There were two reasons for this—the number of plants was relatively low there because of the climatic disparities, and another was that they were ignorant of diversity in vegetarian foods.

Bharat gave an extremely tasty, delicious and nutritious food culture to the whole world. Today, an Indian restaurant may exist anywhere on the surface of the earth wherever there are more than 50000 populations! Bharatiya food culture has spread to the nook and corner of the world like Chinese and Italian foods, nay a bit more in some aspects. Domino’s etc. took Italian pizza and pasta to the world. Unfortunately, we could not establish chains of restaurants that could take foods like idli, dosa, vada-pav, chole-bhature etc. to the global level.

What diversity we have! Tagging them just under South Indian food is not enough. Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala have their different food items. Dosa and wadas are prevalent in India for 2000-2500 years, but idli is not from Bharat. The idli is the recipe created through fermentation process by cooks in the service of Bharatiya kings of Java—Sumatra (Indonesia). It came to India from Java—Sumatra and became known worldwide. The foremost mention of idli is found in the Kannada language book ‘Vaddaradhane’ by Shivkoti Acharya in Bellary district in 920 AD.

The Bharatiya curry is extremely famous worldwide. Many celebrities in the world are addicted to this ‘curry’. The word ‘curry’ means the gravy made by Indian spices. It can be used in both vegetarian and non-vegetarian foods. The history of ‘curry’ is interesting and ancient. This word is derived from the word ‘kaikaari’ from Tamil. Kaikaari means the vegetables cooked with different spices.

By Prashanth Pole

Courtesy: Organiser