Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Opening Statement

What kind of activity is cooking? In the Norwegian food discourse the domestic cook is described as a scientist, an artist, an expert, a perfectionist, a patriot, a protector of nature, a politician, a gourmet, a good mother, a good wife and a domestic mistress. This makes daily cooking something more than routine housework, it is also a significant part of self-presentation and identity formation.
Annechen Bahr Brugge, 'Cooking - As Identity Work'

In today's world, this statement rings true more in the negative. Take a city like Delhi, where this blog was born. By and large, restaurants here fall into what I may term the generic classes 'hype' and 'rip-off'. They advertise the most exotic, far-flung cuisines you can think of, and then make everything taste just the same. More often than not they can't even get their menu spellings right. And yet their mediocre food pegged at vastly inflated prices never seem to lack for takers either.

Admittedly, most ventures in this city catering to the finer things in life routinely inflict their share of philistinery on the people. Bookstores sell fifteen-year-old editions at current Dollar prices; art galleries hawk indifferent paintings at ten times what they are worth. Classical music impresarios promote second-rate star progeny as the next 'happening thing on the music scene.' Worse, all this is routinely accepted without much overt demur.

In the case of food, however, the contrived hype and glamour are also symptomatic of a deeper malaise. If food engenders identity formation, what is the identity our restaurants represent? Troubled, contrived, all that and more? The identity of the rootless, of those whose roots lie sacrificed to an unrelenting 'go where the moolah is' mindset?

Fortunately, there exist several exceptions. Even in an arid city like Delhi, as in other places. By and large, they display three characteristics. First, they are free of what we may term shallowness, and are keyed to motives more interesting than the crassly mercenary. Examples include a culinary tradition the owner seeks to uphold, a socio-cultural milieu, or even the desire to innovate with food.

Secondly, they tend to offer you a good deal for your money. This is a purely subjective notion, but a palpable one. The number of times I have felt cheated at Delhi's more pretentious eating joints I have lost count of.

The third characteristic is also subjective but important. Since they are shorn of pretentiousness, the eateries we focus on tend to be fun places to visit. Seldom do you go to one of them and not end up having a rattling good time.

Unearthing and locating each example in itself forms a quest, and has yielded several thoroughly enjoyable adventures. As have visiting these places, eating in them, learning more about them, their provenance, their goals and objectives. Indeed, our pursuance of these offbeat eateries has been a genuinely enriching experience in all the senses of the term.

In this blog, we relate our encounters with such outlets. It features articles and discussions on eateries of all sorts, which broadly conform to the characterists outlined above. Since cheaper places tend to be less pretentious, they form the mainstay of the blog. But this is by no means a hard-and-fast rule.


Amit Walambe said...

P.L.Deshpande, a famous, well-respected marathi writer, once wrote that taste of food at a food joint is inversly proportional to the "shine" of the place. So just as you get the best of 'paan' where the "cleaning" cloth of the 'paanwala' is most stained; food is the best at the not-so-polished places (or rather the ones not polished _at all_)

We, myself and a few friends, always loved finding such places in Pune. And even though the descriptions and the cuisines may differ, the adventure remains the same as the one in foodscapes.
It would be fun to read your blog. :)
- Amit