Food chauvinism, is that even a thing?

Eating and even cooking are entirely about taste and preference. Such things are subjective, eccentric and peculiar to the individual. So I find it strange that there are cooking competitions like the MasterChef series, where judges award the best dish and finally the best amateur chef. On the Fox History Channel’s Reverse Exploration, two Papua New Guinea tribesmen visit France to explore the modern Western world. The men are confronted on a ski slope with what they felt was the darndest dish ever thought up by the brain of Western man _ fondue. Sometimes when I am in a restaurant and given a perfectly fine dish that has been suffocated by a molten glacier of cheese and white sauce, I imagine I know exactly what those tribesmen felt. Leonard, the lactose intolerant lovable geek and long suffering roommate to Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory, would know a thing or two about this too.

I eat meat if it is tender and well spiced. In India I wouldn’t dare try any rare. This is a taste idiosyncrasy peculiar to my palate, as there are plenty of people who like their meat gamey. Sometimes even in fine-dining restaurants you are given meat that tastes as if the poor goat hadn’t had a wash in the months prior to its appearance on my plate. I can hear Anthony Bourdain laughing somewhere as he scoffs at this need to have animals washed and smelling of daisies before their trip to butcher and then restaurant. Mostly I order in hope and then stop eating after a couple of bites. Aside from the religious food diktats operating in India and other Asian countries, eating and enjoyment of food are also prejudiced by the cultures we are rooted in. A lot of vegetarians in India can’t even look at egg, meat or fish, leave alone the smell of any strong protein that isn’t a ‘yellow-bellied lily-livered’ lentil.  I have heard stories about people used to tropical spicy coconut fish curry in their daily diet going to Germany and finding themselves unable to adjust to sausages at breakfast and dinner. Those delicately spiced and herbed brawny-flavoured meat preserves taste bland to a palate used to having its meat and fish swaddled in a swarthy flavour blanket.

a bottle of mustard oil very quirkily named "Husband's choice", extra-virgin olive oil from afar, that white un-labeled bottle contains home-made extra-virgin coconut oil. The trees grow in my parents' garden. The coconuts are harvested and husked. These are split open and then rather laboriously the flesh inside cut into little pieces, which are left to dry on a very hot terrace under the sun. It's a week long process and the coconut pieces get oilier and nuttier in smell as they slowly bake. At this stage, the dessicated coconut pieces are called 'copra'. The copra are collected and given for milling. The pith left behind after milling is good cattle feed.

The pleasantly bitter extra-virgin olive oil is an acquired taste for many in the older generation unaccustomed to global cuisine and for whom it remains the preferred unguent for body massage and not something to dip your bread in. Many north Indians go to the south of India and cannot for the life of them fathom why south Indians use coconut oil to cook their food in what they deem hair oil. But in the south, the coconut is omnipresent. So the oil from its giant seed is used omni-changeably, not only for cooking, but also as everything else _ moisturiser on skin and conditioner for long, black tresses. Even carpenters and handymen ask for it to grease a stubborn joint. And there are those who are put off by the pungent mustard oil in East Indian Bengali cuisine. Our cultural tastes can sometimes make us food chauvinists. But even when we are more wide-ranging in our tastes, everyone’s still a talk show host when it comes to their food.

Then there was the sight of celebrity Chef Gary Rhodes on Rhodes across India who seemed to find the full-bodied and complex coastal Goan curries a bit overpowering for his taste. Now, this was the same man who oohed and aahed over some of the cheesier, passata doused offerings on Rhodes across Italy. In Rhodes across India, however, I watched as he told Indian cuisine expert Marut Sikka that the traditionally prepared left-for-hours-on-the-stove Pav Bhaji, Sikka had prepared, didn’t taste as fresh as the one he Rhodes had made. The Rhodes version of one of Bombay’s famous street foods took only an hour or so to cook down. Of course, his sous chefs came out and agreed with him, I have never seen them disagree. I can only conclude that the European cultural palate is a great influence on Chef Rhodes.

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