Anna-sambaar to the American on the Blackberry?

KIRAN RAO BATNI writes from Bangalore: At a long luncheon meeting with a couple of American visitors today, we did some serious overtime talking about food.

One of the guys started talking about food from Germany, Greece, Italy, Israel, China, Japan, and how he’s had a great time experimenting with the local culinary delights. He mentioned how he loves eating the local food wherever he travels, and how it’s one of the best parts of a job involving travel.

“Local food is actually the best and the safest option anywhere in the world,” he said. “You go to Japan, and you eat sushi. Period. Don’t even try anything else.”

Of course, what he said made eminent sense.

We all nodded wisely.

It took me a while to realise that in Bangalore, what we had ordered for lunch for our American visitors was naan, malai kofta (for the veggies) and chicken tikka masala (for the non-veggies), and that there was actually nothing local about any of those dishes. Wheat is not even South India’s staple cereal!

If local food is best and safest, every dish on the table was “local” to places at least 2,000 kilometers away from where we were sitting in Indiranagar.

I’d like to leave Churumuri readers to ponder the following: Why is Karnataka’s local food not to be seen in so-called decent restaurants? How have we so coolly accepted North Indian food as “local” food? Is wheat the real staple food of the bold, beautiful, rich and famous? Are rice, ragi, jowar bad linen to be hidden from foreigners to save embarrassment?

When will foreigners ever understand the diversity of India? Should they blamed if they think all Indians speak Hindi and eat naan, malai kofta and chicken tikka masala?

Is it wrong to talk about India’s culinary diversity? Should we be defensive about our own delicacies? Should we always take visitors to North Indian restaurants? What has happened to Kannadigas’ entrepreneurial skills?

Are we being ambassadors of Atulya Bharat when we forget our own culture, cuisine, and cereal?

Also read: Gutter chicken: The Punjabification of our food

M’am, can I have one more of these lovely balls?

Real estate sharks gobbling up our best eateries

Cross-posted on churumuri



  1. TambuLi said

    Having lived in Indiranagar, CMH road for nearly 2 years, I can easily say that its not the place you can look for restaurants with the best of local delicacies. Banashankari 2nd stage/Jayanagar/Basavangudi could be the ones. Still, I think the mindset of people here is to have the best and healthy food served at home and anything outrageous,abnormal,over-spicy,okay-quality, served in the restaurants.

  2. Many of you would be surprised to know that chillies entered India only 400 years back .So also tomato, potato and onion were introductions from our western settlers to India around the same time. Then the common sense question, which all of you should ask is how was Sambar prepared in South India before that and how were the North Indians preparing different Sabjis without Tomato and onion. I have been searching for an answer to this riddle for quite some time I was also intrigued by the name Sambar. No word in any of the south Indian language gave a meaning to that word. I was thinking it has to do something with Sambharam (Collection). But I was not able to connect this word to Sambar.
    Before 400 years tamarind which is of south Indian origin was being used in all the south Indian states. The preparations were called by various names. It was Pulungari (dish with tamarind in Kerala), Huli in Karnataka, Pulusu in Andhra and Vattal Kuzhambu, poricha Kozhambu, Karai Kuzhambu, Pitlai etc in Tamil Nadu. Ofcourse, the traditional Kerala cuisine did not use chillies or tamarind but relied only on pepper for pungency and Buttermilk and mango for adding sour taste. In most of these cases the souring agent was tamarind and the thickening agent was cooked green gram dal, rice powder or ground coconut paste. Asafetida and Toor dhal which were not available in South India were not used in any of these dishes. The agent which added pungency to all these was still Chilies. Possibly before chillies came, they were using pepper powder .Then all of a sudden I realized that the preparations on the death anniversary days did not use chillies, asafetida as well as toor dhal. The main dish equivalent to Sambar, which was called Pitlai, was prepared using tamarind, pepper and green gram dhal. This must have been the precursor of the different Tamarind preparations mentioned above. When I was toying with this idea, I landed on the write up by Dr.Padmini Natarajan, which I quote Verbatim below: –
    “South Indian food, people and culture are inexorably linked to a ubiquitous dish as in idli and sambhar, sambhar and rice and so on. Each state in the South prepares it with a typical variation, adapted to its taste and environment.
    The genesis of this dish has an interesting tale linked to it. The Marathas were ruling Tanjore. Sambhoji was a great cook (the male clan members to note) and very fond of his amti with a handful of the tart kokum thrown in. In a particular season the kokum that was imported from the Maratha homeland did not reach the bare larder of the king’s kitchen. Sambhoji was cooking and the minions were shivering in their dhothis to tell him that his favourite dish could not be made that day. A smart Vidushak, who had been elected sous chef for the day, decided to solve the problem. He whispered in the king’s ears that the locals used very little tamarind pulp to gain a better sourness to the curry and that Sambhoji should experiment with this variation. Voila, the dish with the tuvar dal, vegetables, spices and the tamarind pulp was cooked and served by the king to his coterie. The court declared the dish an outstanding preparation (they had no choice with the king as Chef) and thus was born sambhoji’s amti that in time became sambhar”
    Thus the modern Sambar which we use is named after a king of Tanjore called Sambhaji. Due to distance from his native place and difficulty in getting Kokum, he used Tamarind and possibly added Toor dhal, which is mainly grown in Maharashtra and Gujarat. He might have added Pure Asafoetida which was used as a spice in Maharashtra. From then on lot of research must have gone in, in getting to the modern version of several types of Sambar.
    Still I am wondering how North Indian Sabji was prepared without onion and Tomato!

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