By: Reenita V
I’ve had the privilege of living in three major cities in Canada and all three cities have been beautifully multicultural. Multiculturalism means so much but in my head I automatically think about all the food explorations I can have because of the diversity. For me, food is a manifestation of love. This is always how I saw whatever was placed in front of me for any meal when I was a child. My favorite memory with family evolves around the giant island that sat in the centre of the kitchen in my childhood home. Even when there were arguments, the kitchen was where we would all appear and indulge.
Everyone I know loves food, and almost all of the people I have met have expressed their love for Indian food. I get it. You can curry, spice, or tandoori anything. Yes, there are a multitude of bread options – roti, naan, chapatti – yum. Again, my love for food ensures that my heart is warmed when you discuss the delicious Indian food with me. I love that you want to discuss food with me because I love to eat! However, what I don’t like about you wanting to discuss your love of Indian delights with me is that you are choosing to do so only because I am Indian.
Firstly, not all Indians are the same. I’m sure you have heard, but India is pretty big and all those that live there or have Indian heritage are not the same. Food differs all over the country and while yes, it may all be delicious, it is not the same. My discovery of sag paneer was in a restaurant. I did not, and I speculate others too, did not grow up with this dish as a staple in their home. While so many love butter chicken, know that this is a dish many of my south Asian friends have never enjoyed in their home. Most importantly, I cannot make this dish for you no matter how hard it is to comprehend that my great, great, great, great grandmother did not pass along the secret to the perfect butter chicken dish.
What you see on a menu is often westernized and not a true representation of what South Asian people eats. While on the topic of home cooking, I need to tell you a secret. I sometimes indulge in foods such as pasta, casseroles and pizza. While we are telling secrets, I should tell you that I have seen other south Asian people do it too. Not all households hold an Indian buffest nightly. Your 1-2 hours in an Indian restaurant is not a looking glass into the lives of all Indian people.
Another Indian food expectation is that I should have the skills to master all Indian dishes. While I love food, I cannot cook everything that I or you love. While I wish I could fill all bellies with deliciousness, I can’t and the appalled look on your face when I tell you I can’t cook your beloved dish is actually racist. While your true desire may be to dine with me, your inability to hide with your disgust hits hard. Your reaction tells me quite a few things about how you see me and I do not like the reflection. First, you look at me and you see my skin and heritage. Would you have the same reaction if your Caucasian friend could not roast a chicken? Probably not. Would you react the same if I were a man? My guess is no. What you see is a feeble Indian woman who has not reached her potential in life – potential being the master of the kitchen.
I have gone through great lengths to master some of my favorite Indo-Fijian dishes, because I do believe that food is really a huge part of my culture; however, this is because of my own experiences. My kitchen abilities or inabilities give no one the right the judge or dictate if I am Indian enough for them. While you may not be blatantly calling me a racist name your idea of what I should be is subdued racism wrapped up in a gooey, buttery roti.