Ever thought of a 'kulcha' being featured as the central icon of a state's flag? Or heard of the irresistible samosas being banned from a kingdom not because of its taste but due to its shape? Food and dishes seasoned and blended to generate culinary surprises, have not only been mere tummy fillers but also have endless stories to say. Be it history, etymology, mythology or movies, food finds a prominent position everywhere. So let's take a quick ride through this fascinating world of food and the stories they wish to share.
A dish that made into the royal History
A young courtier of the Mughal empire who was recently appointed as the Nizam-Ul-Mulk (Administrator of the Realm) of Deccan, decided to seek the blessings of his Sufi Guru, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. Wrapped in a yellow cloth, the saint served him a dish that was savoured by the Nizam one after the other till the numbers reached seven. The Sufi guru packed some more of the dish for him (wrapped in a yellow cloth again) and prophesied that the officer will soon become the king and that his dynasty will remain indestructible for seven generations.
The prophecy was fulfilled, as the officer turned a king and his successors ruled the Deccan one after the other or seven generations. Yellow was chosen as the colour of their dynasty's flag with that dish being featured as its central icon. It was also displayed on the coats of the arms men of the princely state.
This kingdom was none other than the Asif Jahi dynasty and kulcha was that proud dish which made its way to a state's (Hyderabad) flag, until it was annexed by the government of India. Culinary history of Hyderabad doesn’t end here; we have the very famous, Hyderabadi biryani followed by haleem, which has the credit of being the first non-vegetarian dish to get a geographical indication tag in India.
The gastronomical trivia finds mention not only in history, but also in many mythologies across the world. The origin of the dish aviyal, for instance, is credited to a chef called Vallabha who had no other option than to take all the leftover vegetables in kitchen and make a dish, when the fearful and ravenous Durvasa came to their palace. Now, I know that you may be confused with another version of this story where Bheema is said to have created avial. Yes, you are not wrong, it is the same Bheemasena of the Pandavas who assumed the name Vallabha during the thirteenth year of his exile.
Like every other mythological stories, there are different versions of this story too. One being that this was the first dish made by Bheema, while trying cooking for the first time. Just like any other first timers, he used all the vegetables that he found around him and made this dish. Another fancied version says, Kauravas once poisoned Bheema and drowned him in a lake. Convinced about his death, they organised a funeral feast the next day. Bheema somehow managed to escape with the help of Nagas and reached the venue. The half-done feast was called off, but Bheema was not impressed with that and mixed all the vegetables together and aviyal was born.
There are hundreds of such stories in various mythologies and histories that are connected to the dishes we have today. For instance, King Nala is known to be the greatest chef ever and even there is a cookery book called Pakadarpana that is credited to him.
Food in the popular culture
The Baker's Wife (1938 ), Tampopo (1985), Babette's Feast (1987), Like Water for Chocolate (1992), Fast Food Nation (2006), Ratatouille (2007), The Lunch Box (2013), Chef (2014) and many more, all these movies prominently revolve around food. Even we have the movie Salt and Pepper (Mollywood) that introduced us to some fictional and real dishes together. Like for instance, the Joannes Rainbow cake which made many Mallus search for its recipe. Even many cakes have now been named after it. Thattil Koottu Dosa became another instant hit and the title song Chembavu punnellin featured dozens of eateries in Kerala and mentioned dozens of dishes too. For those who missed that song, please have a look at this link.
Bollywood too, has its pleasant share when it comes to the usage of names of food and drinks. Cheeni Kum (2007) and Aloo Chaat (2009), the songs Chocolate lime juice ice cream from the movie - Hum Aapke Hain Koun, Batata vada from the movie Hifazat, Chane ke khet mein from Insaaf and the classic song, Main toh raste se ja raha tha from the movie, Coolie No: 1 with Govinda's hilarious dance steps to its rhythm. There is also a famous song with lyrics reading, Jab tak rahega samose mein aloo, from the movie Mr. & Mrs. Khiladi (1997). Oh wait! We have an interesting trivia on Samosas to share now.
The dish has several counterparts across the world, like Samsa – named after the pyramids – and Sanbusaq, the Persian variant, and lukhmi – popular in Hyderabad - which also finds mention in the writings of Amir Khusro and Ibn Batuta as the favourite snack of Delhi Sultanate and the Mughals. So what is the trivia? This harmless savoury was banned by an extremist group, Al Shabab, that effectively controlled a large chunk of Somalia. However, the reason for such a ban is quite interesting to know. The reports say that the samosas were banned for their triangular shape which invokes the thought of the holy trinity in Christianity!
For records, samosa is not the only food that faced a ban, there was this ban on ketchup in French Schools, chewing gum in Singapore, Kinder eggs in the US, horse meat in the US & UK, cow meat in India and so on. All these bans had religious, cultural or financial reasons behind them, however, it’s never been heard of a dish other than samosa that faced a ban because of its shape.
Food and wars
Several wars and battles in history have been named after food or vice versa. There was this Pastry War between France and Mexico following the looting of a French pastry cook living in Tacubaya in Mexico. France had demanded Mexico to provide the compensation and clear their outstanding debt in trade, failing of which led to the First Franco-Mexican War (1838-39) popularly known as the Pastry War.
Similarly the Sandwich War refers to the cold war between airline companies during late 1950s over the contents of sandwich served in flights. Britain and Iceland fought the cold wars for two decades over the dispute of fishing in Icelandic waters. War of the Bavarian Succession (1778-79) was variously named Potato Wars and the Plum Fuss. The anti-royalist Chicken War in Poland (1537), Battle of Hamburger Hill (1969) during the Vietnam War and Battle of Pork Chop Hill during the Korean War (1953) were named after food items whereas Chicken Marengo was named so to celebrate the Napoleonic victory against the Austrian army at the Battle of Marengo (Turin, Italy) in 1800.
When food turns weird!
We have another list of food which can really distort the image of what you believe to be food. However, quite interestingly, what we may seem as a taboo in one culture is perhaps the favourite delicacy of some other culture. For instance, food like crab that is popular across Kerala is a taboo for many. The stories of food generating eeriness continue, starting with the Europe. There is this dish called, haggis in Scotland where you find a sheep’s heart, liver and even lungs minced and cooked inside the animal's stomach. Referring to a dish called hákarl, which is a delicacy in Iceland, celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain describes, "it is the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing , I've ever tried. Why? Because of its smell as well as its taste!" As it is made using sharks that are buried underground till they are rotten, it has the strong smell of ammonia and a very strong fishy flavour.
Have you ever noticed a particular pattern featured on few vehicles, like, emergency service vehicles? What has a pattern got to do with food? There is an interesting connection. Before that let me add another piece of trivia. Have you ever wondered why we have 15th August as our Independence Day and not any other? Now, before you question the statement's logic, let me fine-tune the question. Who opted for the date August 15th and why? In the book, Freedom at Midnight (by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre), this episode is vividly remembered.
Britain finally decided to grant complete independence to India. And Louis Mountbatten, then viceroy called a press meet to officially announce that. During the meet a sudden and unexpected question took the viceroy off-guard. The question went like this, "So Mr. Viceroy, since you have decided to grant independence you might be having a date in your mind?" Undecided Mountbatten, however, instantly declared a date in his mind - August 15. It was the date when Japanese forces surrendered to him in Burma, a moment unforgettable that later helped him to rise to the ranks of viceroy.
So now coming back to our "pattern", let's continue. Mountbatten had his family roots in a place called Battenberg in Germany where a sweet cake finds its origin and etymology. Later, this name was lent to the checkerboard pattern found in vehicles that are called Battenberg Pattern. Black Forest and Hamburg are the other places in Germany that have dishes under their name. Just like the Mahon province of Spain being behind the etymology of Mayonnaise. There are umpteen places from China that adds to this list, starting with Manchuria, Sichuan (that gave rise to Schezwan) etc.
So now, let's wind up with a dose of Indian delicacies! Red ants dried, crushed and spiced up means Chaprah – a hot chutney in Bastar region in Chattisgarh. The liver, blood and intestine of goats in a curry means Bhunni, a staple of Gharwal region of Uttarkhand. Frog legs, snails and dogs are part of popular main courses in various regions of Northeast India. South India has also got a long list of regions having its signature cuisines and food cultures. Chettinadu (chicken), Udupi (Brahmin dishes), Dindigul (Thalappakkatti Biriyani), Tirunelveli (halwa), Ramasseri (idli) and the list goes on. Masala Dosa became an international fame when in was selected by Huffington Post as one among the 10 dishes that should be tried at least once, before you die.
Remember the tragedy that struck Tamil Nadu in 2004? A fire broke out in Sree Krishna School at Kumbakonam in Tanjavur district which killed 94 kids. That town where this tragedy struck has a name that can be roughly translated into - 'Pots Corner.' It got its name from Hindu mythology. It says that the pot of Brahma (that contained the seeds of all living beings) was displaced in Pralaya (the great flood) ultimately came to rest here and that is how Kumbakonam (that had previous names like Kudavayil, Kudamukku et al) got its name. There is an interesting coffee in Kumbakonam known as Degree Coffee. The multiple etymologies behind the interesting name includes, the first Degree (first decoction) taste, first degree milk (referring to its purity) or the first degree chicory used in making the coffee, giving it this unique name. But you will hardly find any outlet that may give you the authentic degree coffee these days.
Well now, it's time for the most interesting of all. This is from the birth place of Haldiram's. There is this city established by Rao Bika in 1498, that had its famous tradition of celebrating its foundation day on Akshaya Thritheeya by flying kites from dawn to dusk and drinking imli ka pani (tamarind water).
Situated in the middle of Thar desert, Bikaner, the fourth largest city of Rajastan, adorned with Junagarh Fort and Laxmi Vilas Palace, is famous for its temple, dedicated to Karni Mata, an incarnation of Goddess Kali. Now here awaits a fact for your surprise. At this temple the devotees make their offerings to rats. Yes! Rats, that are believed to be the incarnations of Karni mata and her sons, are revered and worshipped here by serving food to them.
Now moving onto an all-time favourite snack of Indians across the world - bhujia – the dish that was invented in Bikaner, went global when it received the geographical indication protection in 2010. The recipe constitutes moth dal besan, chana dal, many spices, saline water and a secret recipe that gives it the crispness and long shelf life. Want to take a guess about this secret ingredient? The answer to this one is truly amazing and unbelievable - the desert sand! The experts mix fine and clean sand from the Thar desert giving form to the fresh, crispy and tasty Bikaneri Bhujia. Truly interesting!
Now let us move on to the quiz. This time we have a very special guest as our quiz master. One who needs no introduction in Kerala, T V Anupama IAS, Thrissur district collector and former Commissioner of Food Safety in Kerala. She has been actively involving in quizzing activities since her training days in Kozhikode as assistant collector. Anupama has also contributed to the Manorama Quiz Book published in 2015.
Here are the questions:
1.Which group of animal/bird/fish has been named after one of the islands in the Mediterranean sea that you see here?
2. With what food item would you associate these gentlemen, one known for advocating a particular type of treatment and the other one who started his career by selling brooms?
3. The name of the dish that is seen in the middle has been credited to the Count who is seen on the right as well as to the minister who is seen on the left, both having the same family name. Name the dish.
4. This sweet's name first appeared in print in "The London Chronicle" newspaper in the later part of 18th century. This 19th century writer also used this in his novels, a term that has derived from a colloquial term for mouth/tongue. The term was patented by the company named after this gentleman from USA (picture on the right) and his partner, who is often credited with the invention of the sweet. Name the sweet, the inventor and the company that patented the sweet?
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Answers of Quiz Two
1. Mercedes Benz – She is Mercedes Jellinek, daughter of automobile entrepreneur Emil Jellinek
2. Lal Bahadhur Shastri – These series are called Jai Jawan & Jai Kissan respectively
3. Titanic – The sculpture called Navigator, is situated in the Irish port city of Cobh, formerly known as Queenstown, which was one of the three and the penultimate destination of Titanic before it sank.
4.Rafflesia – biggest flower in the world - named after Sir Stamford Raffles, who is known as the founder of Modern Singapore city.
5. Munich massacre, also known as Black September, that happened during the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, in which the Palestinian terrorist group Black September killed 11 Israeli athletes after a failed attempt to keep them hostage and negotiate. The Israeli athletes were watching the musical performance called Fiddler on the roof, hours before the attack.
Winners of Quiz 2
First: Dr Reeta James, KMCT Medical College, Mukkom
Second: Abhinav K, Bhavan's Vidya Mandir, Poochatty, Thrissur
Third: Shamin Manet, Providence Women's College, Kozhikode