Updated Apr 15,2008: Rachel Laudan was kind enough to respond to my email to say that she does not have much knowledge of Ethiopian to answer the question. She has however said she knows someone that might be able to answer. Stay tuned.
A key reason I started this series is to debunk ideas that threaten the very fabric of India’s great diverse culture. One of the ideas, that is oft repeated these days, is that the India of pre-moghul, pre-British time was pristine and rich. And that the British and Islamists have spoilt everything India had and have left an abjectly poor country in their wake.
I am 100% sure that the British and Islamist Kings did god-awful unspeakable things to India and its people. No one in their right mind will condone any type of invasion or oppression of this type. Not withstanding the fact that the India of today didn’t exist then. Therefore to speak of “Indian” as a valid term for the region pre-1947 is a historical flaw, but that is besides the point.
We, in India, do one of 2 things these days – either anything that the invaders brought is worthless or the idea is a Hindu idea. The Islamists and the British fall under the former category, whereas Buddha and Mahavira and Parsvanath fall under the latter category. This is how our history is being distorted for political reasons. I would not be this upset, if i didn’t realize that the youth of this country are being fed this poison and they are lapping it up. A culture that is known for its tolerance is quickly becoming bigoted and that is extremely scary.
Roots of North Indian Cuisine
Some background for non-Indian readers – most often, when we come across an Indian restaurant abroad, it serves North Indian cuisine. With the rise of the software industry which is dominated by South Indians, one does find South Indian fare these days. But they are still quite rare.
Myself and Priya Raju love Ethiopian cuisine. Anyone that has had both Indian and Ethiopian food will easily attest to the fact that the spices are quite similar. We used to wonder how this similarity came about, but we could not find the answer. We were also confused by how far Ethiopia is from India, both culturally and geographically.
Couple of days back, I came across this brilliant article by Rachel Laudan that traces the roots of the Mexican Mole. Again, the similarities of Mole to Indian curry is unmistakeable. But then how did this happen? Mexico is so far away from India that anyone connecting these 2 cuisines will be met with a loud snicker. Per Laudan, Octavia Paz, Nobel Laureate and erstwhile Ambassador to India from Mexico, tried to do just that.
Laudan continues on and proves that the Mexican Mole is indeed connected to Indian curry but the connection happened through Persia! When Babur came to India, he brought the cuisine with him which has mesmerized Indians since then. The sherbets, the pilafs (pulao) and the tandoor are all through this Babur connection. And it went to Mexico from Spain which had acquired the cuisine through the Islamic connection as well.
An excerpt from the article:
The influential Persian culinary tradition is yet to be studied in detail. When the Abbasid dynasty established its capital in Baghdad in the eighth century, the Islamic world was able to draw on a sophisticated Persian culinary tradition that stretched back a millennium. The ancient Greeks had been awed by the luxurious cuisine of the Persian emperors Darius and Cyrus. Successive dynasties had continued to refine the cuisine that became the model for fine dining throughout the Islamic world. After the Mongols destroyed Baghdad in the first half of the 13th century, the center of Persian culture and its cuisine shifted back to the Persian heartland. It was here that the Moghuls learned the style of cooking that they took with them to northern India.
If this is not a signal contribution of the Islamists, what is?
The Ethiopian Connection
As for Ethiopian, we still don’t know the answer. But my guess is that it is also from the same Islamic influence. Interestingly, the Ethiopians call their curry powder Berbere. Here is another excerpt from the same Laudan article:
One of the most important was the Iberian Peninsula, whose southern two-thirds came under Arab rule in the eighth century. Watered by five rivers and greener than either their arid homelands or the other lands they had conquered, al-Andalus, as Muslim Spain was called, held out to the Arab and Berber settlers the promise of being a culinary paradise on earth.
Notice the phrase Berber settlers in the last line? Maybe this is why the Ethiopians call it Berbere? Wonder if Rachel Laudan knows the answer. BTW, Rachel Laudan has a blog if you want to read more.
The next one we will tackle is the idea that the evil caste system is a creation of the British! One of the main citations that is used for this idea is, the Gandhian Scholar, Dharampal’s works. Are there any other reliable citations that prove that the caste system is a British creation? If any of you know, please let me know.