I have been reading David Kamp’s The United States of Arugula about the people who changed the way in which America eats.
Kamp picks such chefs and restaurateurs as the late Andre Soltner and Henri Soule who introduced French food to American tastes; Alice Waters and Jeremiah Tower who invented California cuisine; Wolfgang Puck, the first real show-biz celebrity chef, and such food writers as James Beard, Craig Claiborne, Julia Child and perhaps, Gael Greene.
His book is fascinating because of the insight it provides into how a few individuals can change the food habits of an entire nation. And it got me wondering: if we were to pick the people who changed the way in which India eats, who would we include?
The short answer is: I do not know. I reckon it will take months — if not years — of research to answer that question. But here are some candidates. If I think of more — as I am sure I will — they will have to wait for another Rude Food.
K C Das : According to legend, they were the people who invented the rassogolla. I have no idea if this can be substantiated but there’s no doubt that the Bengali sweets popularised by K C Das have taken over India. When Indians think of mithai, nearly every dessert can be traced back to Calcutta from rasmalai to sandesh. Yet, strangely K C Das never quite gets the credit it deserves.
Haldiram’s: Say what you like about their quality versus the small, artisanal operations but it is clear that Haldiram’s transformed the way in which we looked at bhujiya and other savouries.
By introducing new Indian-style snacks (including the irresistible Mo Pleeze) and changing the packaging, they took Indian snack-eating to a new level.
Kundanlal Gujral : Without wishing to get into the controversy about who really invented tandoori chicken and where (was it Lahore or Peshawar?) and when (in the 1920s; just before Partition?), I have to say that Moti Mahal deserves the credit for popularising the dish and its variations.
Without tandoori chicken there would be no butter chicken (which may or may not have been invented by Hansraj Kapotra), no chicken tikka sandwich and no chicken tikka masala — the most famous Indian dishes in the world.
The Taj Group of Hotels: I’ve said this before, much to the annoyance of other hotel chains, and I’ll say it again. If there had been no Taj group post the 1970s, we would have eaten very differently.
It was the Taj (in the form of Camellia Panjabi) who brought Sichuan food to India (first at the Golden Dragon in Bombay and then, more influentially, at the House of Ming in Delhi) and made teekha Chinese the eating out option of choice for millions of Indians.