India’s kitchens are going through a silent shift in attitude, celebrating all that is local and homely, and the Internet is playing a pivotal part
Bottle gourd, little gourd, pumpkin, radish — not exactly the kind of vegetables we love to eat, cook or Instagram. If at all we do, we relegate them to sambars , poriyals , koftas and curries, to consume them in disguise. But what happens when an entire community gets together to acknowledge, recognise, and celebrate these humble local vegetables?
On March 31, hundreds of people across the country got together to do just that — celebrate regional vegetables on Sabzi Tarkari Din , or Vegetable Day. More than two weeks later, the movement is gaining strength.
“Vegetables existed on this planet for thousands of years before man made his appearance,” food critic and professor Pushpesh Pant remarked at the event in Delhi. “Even though they have sustained us since the Vedic times, we tend to underestimate vegetables. We follow the west blindly in their meaty diet, while modern science and research prove that if you sustain on vegetables, you are a healthier and happier person.”
Credit where due
Pant doesn’t seem to be the only person gung-ho about vegetables in Indian cuisine. Thousands of others, who joined in to celebrate the day in various innovative ways, seem to resonate with him.
“Vegetables have always been an intrinsic part of Indian cuisine. From a simple onion smashed with salt to be eaten with a paratha , to crunchy kachumbar salads, tangy raitas , stir-fried greens, and elaborate gravies, vegetables find their place in every meal in India,” Rushina M Ghildiyal, who is at the helm of the Sabzi Tarkari Din , says on a call from Mumbai.
Aided by a strong social media following (77,026 on Facebook; 23,046 on Twitter, and 3,040 on Instagram) the writer, consultant, culinary expert and founder of APB Cook Studio, Sabzi Tarkari Din began a movement of sorts. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram were flooded with updates, pictures, videos and recipes; the hashtag trended on Twitter and Instagram. Chefs and cooks joined hands to share regional and local recipes; homemakers and students showcased their favourite preparations; bloggers and writers walked through vegetable markets across the country to bring forth the variety and diversity of vegetables in India.
Rakesh Raghunathan of the Puliyogare Travels blog showed viewers gooseberry, milagaai , sarsaparilla root, vadumaanga , and sundakkai from the busy lanes of Mylapore in Chennai; Kalyan Karmakar of Finely Chopped went to Pali market in Bandra, Mumbai and brought in stories of tori , doodhi , tendli , bhopla , yam and drumsticks.
Parvinder Singh Bali, Corporate Chef, Learning and Development at The Oberoi Center of Learning and Development, Delhi, ran a special class on preparations from across communities for his Kitchen Management Associates. Restaurants like SodaBottleOpenerWala, Mumbai and The Eyry, Indore did pop-ups with out-of-the-box recipes like ‘ lauki shot glass dessert’ and ‘cucumber and mint mocktail’.
The bigger picture
Sabzi Tarkari Din is just one in a series. The idea of introducing Food Observance Days in India had struck Ghildiyal when she was preparing for Macaroon Day and realised how India, despite its rich and diverse culinary tradition, has no such days.
“Indian traditional culinary practices evolved and transformed over time as our cuisine evolved. Ingredients, their uses, cooking methods, food combinations, a seasonal food calendar, Indian dietetics, and dining etiquette have all been built into a system of traditional practices with a sound reason behind them,” she asserts, adding, “IFOD is an attempt to promote and support traditional Indian ingredients, dishes, food-ways;a way of collating recipes, sharing stories, and bonding with people.”
Indian Food Observance Days follow the Indian seasonal food calendar. The calendar is aligned to activities traditionally done at that time of year — pickles are made in April, spices are ground in May, pakodas are relished in the monsoons and dals are eaten in winter.
“If we stop and make that pickle or grind that spice like our predecessors did, we, in turn, will follow a cycle that has existed for centuries,” Ghildiyal says.
And where does she see this going? “I want to let it grow on its own,” she says, “It is nice that the growth is organic. People are joining in to celebrate their food. That’s all we want at the end of the day.”
Ways in which you can be a part of Food Observance Days
- Share recipes from your community, family, and region with people around you.
- Get together and organize potlucks, cook-offs, and community kitchens.
- Use local, regional, natural ingredients and methods.
- Promote the local grocer, vegetable seller, farmers market
- Take pride in the great culinary tradition you have inherited
IFOD Calendar- 2018
- Dal Divas January 21, 2018
- Subzi Tarkari Din – March 31, 2018
- Aam Achaar Day – April 22, 2018
- Papad Badi Day – May 13, 2018
- Masala Day – May 20, 2018
- Pulao Biryani Day – June 24, 2018
- Chai Pakoda Day – July 30, 2018
- Chutney Day – September 24, 2018
- Laddu Day – October 15, 2018
- Khichdi Day – November 2, 2018
This story first appeared in The Hindu.