By Dr Asir Ajmal
When reading about myths and legends of ancient India, I have often read accounts of what people wore in those days. And there are descriptions of rituals and customs. But hardly ever is there a description of foods in enough detail to ascertain what kinds of dishes people ate and what the ingredients were. What did Rama like to eat? What was Krishna’s favorite dish apart from homemade butter? Did Arjuna eat beaf in secret or was he a total veg as most high caste Hindus would like to believe.
And I was shocked to find out that it could not have been aloo gobi (potatoes and cauliflower). And it was certainly not aloo chholay (potatoes and chickpeas). Why am I so certain that the human incarnations of Lord Vishnu, namely Rama and Krishna never got to eat these dishes? The answer is simple; potatoes were not eaten in India at the time. In fact, potatoes were never eaten in India before Columbus discovered America.
Potatoes were indigenous to South America and were unheard of in Europe, Asia or Africa before the sixteenth century AD. They were brought to Europe by Spanish explorers. From there they spread like wildfire to the colonies in Asia and Africa and became part of regional cuisines.
OK, fine. So potato was not eaten in ancient India. Big deal. But I am sure that Krishna couldn’t resist a nice curry made of tomatoes and chickpeas. Oops! Wrong again!!!
While chickpeas were commonly eaten in India at the time, tomatoes were not. Tomato was also indigenous to America and was brought to India by the Europeans. Tomato, without which no Indian dish seems complete, was not Indian either, unless you are using the word Indian to refer to native Americans or American Indians.
Right. I give up. But one thing I am still sure of. Their favorite dishes must have been hot and spicy as hell, right?
Wrong, yet again. It is true people used a lot of spices in Indian cooking but how hot could it really be without red hot chili peppers? Chili peppers were also brought to India by the colonizers. These were soon incorporated into the local cuisine just like their cousins, potatoes and tomatoes, and have continued to rule South Asian palate long after the end of colonial rule.
But the list does not end here. What about Corn? Obviously the gods in their human form must have enjoyed makai ki roti (unleavened corn bread) with gandlaan da saag (mustard greens). They would have if corn had also not been indigenous to America.
Next time when you sit down to eat Indian/ Pakistani food, make sure to thank God for giving us America; for without it not even gods could eat aloo bhaji or bhindi tamaatar.
A version of this post has been already published on my blog on linkedin.
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