Flavour saver: A museum is on the cards to save India’s age-old recipes
Local foods and cooking techniques are in danger of being lost. The FSSAI is working to record as much as it can in time.fitness Updated: Apr 23, 2017 15:23 IST
- Seed libraries are maintained around the world, but recipe libraries are rarer
- Recording local recipes shows how portions and ingredients influence health
- It also focuses on India’s homegrown superfoods
- And it is a good way to learn how dietary patterns have changed over time
Why is tadka added to dal? It’s not just flavour. “The oil helps the body assimilate fat-soluble — which is very important in a predominantly plant-based diet,” says food consultant Rushina Munshaw-Ghildiyal.
That’s just a generic example. Across India’s regional cuisines, there is a precise, almost mathematical, logic to traditional foods, combinations and meals. And much of it is being lost to fast food, packaged snacks and even to imported fads posing as superfoods.
The mismatch, in fact, is part of the reason for rising rates of obesity and metabolic disorders.
“The nutritional value of the food we ingest has dropped drastically,” says Mumbai nutritionist Shikha Gupta. “Whole cereals, for instance, are all but missing from the urban Indian diet.”
Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has decided to act as the country faces the loss of its diverse culinary heritage and micro-cuisines and is now planning a museum of Indian good heritage and what they’re calling ‘bhoole-bisre’, ‘rare’ ‘heritage’ recipes.
“There is currently no one place where information on India’s rich food traditions, heritage and customs can be sought. We are having discussions to come up with a concrete plan for such a space,” says FSSAI CEO Pawan Kumar Agarwal. “We want to create a repository that will offer cultural context, nutritional and even pharmaceutical values of Indian cuisines. It won’t be about dishes and taste alone but the science of food.”
The plan is to rope in food scientists and historians, chefs, food revivalists and other national and multinational experts in the field.
Also in the works are traditional food festivals, talks, seminars and food trails.
“Currently, restaurants and hotels are promoting certain cuisines individually, but through this initiative we plan to go beyond the niche and reach out to the masses,” Agarwal says.
The independent efforts are coming from various sources.
The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a Delhi-based thinktank, recently released a book titled First Food: Culture of Taste, a collection of 50 recipes that used traditional, seasonal produce.
“We have a living tradition of healthy food still eaten in our homes. We still cherish diverse cuisines and we will crave for our unique smells and tastes. But knowledge of this diversity is disappearing… our food is getting multinationalised, industrialised and chemicalised,” reads the foreword.
“We decided to put together the book because we were getting exceedingly concerned about how Indians were consuming processed food and how there was a lack of diversity on their plates,” says CSE director-general Sunita Narain.
The globalisation that caused us to lose touch with our culinary traditions, ironically, is bringing some of them back. As Indian ‘superfoods’ draw attention globally, ironically, they are becoming more easily available locally again.
“Millets like jowar, bajra and ragi are now being called superfoods and are a perfect balance of minerals, fats and carbohydrates. They can be used in everyday cooking, be it porridges, pancakes, halwas or upmas. They are available all year round, and as demand rises once more, are making a comeback in supermarkets and e-groceries,” says Mumbai nutritionist Dhvani Shah.
Ghildiyal has one such superfood family recipe that she has both adopted and adapted.
“My husband’s great-grandmother made a delicious saag with the husk of sesame seeds that would be eaten with rice. It was a traditional Garhwali dish usually had in winters. This husk is extremely rich in Vitamin B1, iron and calcium. I now make a light soup of it too, so that it can be had in summer as well.”