I too have flattened India
October 15, 2014 5:53 PM   Subscribe

The Gentrification of the Dosa: "I worry dosas will become their Western definitions—“lentil crepe” or “lentil pancake,” that sanitized screen."
posted by sevenyearlurk (139 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
"There’s a luxury to inconvenience. But that trendiness only applies to places where rich white people live—in places brown people live, inconvenience is backwards."
posted by Fizz at 6:03 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


I don't know if it was gentrification or westernisation (wouldn't it rather be Indianization?) which brought dosas to Toronto and right around the corner from my house, but it means I can enjoy the awesomeness that he had the luck to have as a child.

It's not cultural appropriation to appreciate aspects of other peoples' culture - and people from cultures with awesome food should be generous and share them with the rest of us.
posted by jb at 6:11 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


To read about someone complaining about gentrification of dosas and talking about maids and drivers in the same article makes me wonder.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 6:26 PM on October 15, 2014 [26 favorites]


Give me the fucking dosas. Fuck all y'all.
posted by grobstein at 6:38 PM on October 15, 2014 [11 favorites]


The next big fast-casual is an Indian Chipotle, mark my words.

Chicken tikka masala or mater paneer wrapped in your choice of dosa or naan, topped off with a raita shooter. Wash it all down with a mango lassi 'smoothie'.

Call it Ganesha and you already have a mascot. People love elephants.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:38 PM on October 15, 2014 [43 favorites]


Papadum 'chips' with tamarind dipping sauce for only a little bit extra!
posted by leotrotsky at 6:41 PM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm predicting Indikitch expands to become a NYC-local chain.
posted by kokaku at 6:45 PM on October 15, 2014


Copy/paste isn't working on my phone, but I'd eat the heck out of the Indian chipotle chain, appropriation or not.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:46 PM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


The next big fast-casual is an Indian Chipotle, mark my words

Damnit I was going to be good tonight but Curry Up Now and their Punjabi burritos are sooo clooose.
posted by Space Coyote at 6:46 PM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


The next big fast-casual is an Indian Chipotle, mark my words.

There's already one in DC, which seems to be on the bleeding edge of this "Chipotle of ___ food" trend for whatever reason (we also have "chipotle of southeast Asian"* and "chipotle of Mediterranean"). But I haven't been to Merzi, the Indian one, because it gets seriously bad reviews.

* Shophouse now appears to be in CA, but it was here first, and I think it was actually started by Chipotle.
posted by lunasol at 6:47 PM on October 15, 2014


Already gentrified, it's called Hampton Chutney Co. and it's on Prince Street. Decent masala dosa in a pinch, but the rest of their menu is pretty westernized (arugula and goat cheese dosas, etc.)

The next big fast-casual is an Indian Chipotle, mark my words.
Also already exists, just not a chain. Hot Clay Oven, I get lunch there sometimes. Pick your meat pick your vegetables eat it in a rice bowl or on top of a naan bread.
posted by pravit at 6:48 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Here in Chicago we've got Naansense, which is basically Indian Chipotle, and it's amazing.

Also, what Marie said. Bakshani kinda touches on it at the end, but doesn't go into it at any depth; it's a little ridiculous to hear someone who's never actually made their own dosas and who eats them as a treat to complain that the people who actually have to make them and who eat them because they don't have much money want the process to be a little more convenient.
posted by protocoach at 6:49 PM on October 15, 2014 [6 favorites]


The next big fast-casual is an Indian Chipotle, mark my words.

Came very close a few years ago: http://www.startribune.com/lifestyle/taste/blogs/123126363.html
posted by FreelanceBureaucrat at 6:50 PM on October 15, 2014


I'm still waiting for decent roti prata to make its way to the states.
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:51 PM on October 15, 2014


It reads to me like his issue isn't gentrification, it's things not being the same always.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:51 PM on October 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


Fuck, I'd knife someone for an arugula goat cheese dosa right now.
posted by Keith Talent at 6:52 PM on October 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


I'm really torn on this piece because on the one hand, it's so beautifully-written that the author's pain and sense of loss is visceral. But on the other hand, it seems almost selfish to not want other cultures to experience your childhood comfort food because it might take away from the specialness of those memories.
posted by lunasol at 6:52 PM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


Chicken tikka masala or mater paneer wrapped in your choice of dosa or naan, topped off with a raita shooter. Wash it all down with a mango lassi 'smoothie'.



Come to Toronto- we already have it, but it's called "Roti". Basically a dhalpuri roti folded around a curry or stew of Indo-Caribbean origin. Brought over from Trinidad and Jamaica, but with additional South Asian elements re-introduced here. Multiple layers of fusion more than gentrification. Delicious.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:53 PM on October 15, 2014 [13 favorites]


Also in Toronto, there's a place near yonge & bloor called "TKRE - the Kathi roll express" that serves various curries rolled up in a naan-like flatbread. They're obviously built with franchising in mind.

Anyway, I liked this piece because it's not really about the gentrification of the roti, so much as it is about the author recognizing their own. gentrification. I thought it was a really good read.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 6:58 PM on October 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


It reads to me like his issue isn't gentrification, it's things not being the same always.

Yeah. Not even that, she's like complaining that subpar expressions of something she likes aren't good, or aren't the thing she likes. This is like a frenchman complaining that since they sell white shitty doughy 'baguettes' at the local safeway, means that his baguettes he buys everyday are devalued.

Almost every food item lives on a continuum, and this kind of stuff happens to lots of folks favorite foods.

That doesn't mean good dosa is going anywhere…it just means there's going to be a whole lot of bad dosa out there…which will probably lead some people to the good stuff.
posted by furnace.heart at 7:00 PM on October 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


We have an "Indian Chipotle" place here in Cambridge, called Chutney's, and it's actually freaking delicious but nobody's in ever there. I don't know if it's just a location thing (it's inside a weird dark indoor mini-mall) or if the idea doesn't have broad appeal.
posted by threeants at 7:03 PM on October 15, 2014


Another aspect of this that occurred to me was the gendered aspect of cooking, and the potential that more convenient cooking offers for breaking down some of the gendered barriers that can exist. I noticed that, in the article, the only (named) people who cooked dosas were women. This is the case in most countries; women are generally the people who shoulder the bulk of the work of the house, including cooking. What happens if that work gets radically easier, a la the Rotimatic? We can look at Mexico and find out:
Mexican women that I have talked to are very explicit about this trade-off. They know [machine-ground tortilla flour] doesn’t taste as good; they don’t care. Because if they want to have time, if they want to work, if they want to send their kids to school, then taste is less important than having that bit of extra money, and moving into the middle class. They have very self-consciously made this decision. In the last ten years, the number of women working in Mexico has gone up from about thirty-three percent to nearly fifty percent. One reason for that—it’s not the only reason, but it is a very important reason—is that we’ve had a revolution in the processing of maize for tortillas.
Interestingly, India's current numbers for female participation in the workforce are similar:
Women are an estimated 30% of all economically active individuals. The participation rate for women is falling: from 37% in 2004-05 to 29% in 2009-10.
I don't know if it's super relevant; Bakshani touches on the Rotimatic and convenience a few times, but glossing over this aspect of more convenient cooking seems like a pretty big oversight, especially when you're talking frequently about how labor intensive the process of making dosas can be.
posted by protocoach at 7:05 PM on October 15, 2014 [19 favorites]


Ugh. Similar to the "white people stealing things from black kids!" angle on the ONTD article from a week or two ago, the "gentrification" and appropriation angles on this one just seem like outrage bait.

Just because something annoys you doesn't make it some great cultural wrong. I really hate it when people use big freighted terms as a club to make their point, and sort of as a preload to silence dissenting opinions.

It's sort of another angle on the "just because you disagree with someone doesn't make them a terrible person" chestnut.
posted by emptythought at 7:12 PM on October 15, 2014 [5 favorites]


It's high time the dosa, achieves the pizza status.
posted by gadget_gal at 7:16 PM on October 15, 2014


There's an Indian Chipotle place called Tikkaway in New Haven that is wildly popular. If it can catch on in a place like New Haven, I'm surprised it isn't everywhere by now.
posted by Diagonalize at 7:16 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


I would totally appropriate some Indian Chipotle. I would appropriate it until I weighed many hundreds of pounds.
posted by Justinian at 7:22 PM on October 15, 2014 [6 favorites]


Yeah, this is interesting. It's not "outrage bait" at all =, it's actually a pretty complex, interesting look at what it's like being part of the Indian diaspora and having a sort of idealized view of the homeland and realizing that's rapidly changing. I'm American born Desi, but I've met people who've come here at around age 10 who basically have American accents and are pretty American but have a stronger connection to India, and less of the sense of "be embarrassed that you're Indian" that I grew up with and have spent my whole adulthood trying to work with and erase. A lot of those people are younger than me, which is part of it.

Gentrification isn't used in the text of the article at all. And yeah middle class people in India have servants.

Also, I found it interesting that the fashion in Indian accented English is to sound more American than British.

This part also really got to me:

It is easy for me, from my comfortable armchair in the West, to want India to veer away from convenience. But India would rather be convenient for itself than antiquated and pretty for Western eyes—which is something I must learn to swallow.

Thanks for sharing this.
posted by sweetkid at 7:24 PM on October 15, 2014 [20 favorites]


There's a dosa bar at the Cupertino Whole Foods.

That's pretty much peak gentrification right there.

Also the not-far-away Westfield Valley Fair (basically the high-end mall of Silicon Valley) has "Tava Indian - Handmade Burroti" - that's right, you all got beat to "burroti".

Too little, too late, lady.
posted by GuyZero at 7:25 PM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


I used to live in Pennsylvania, about 45 minutes outside of Philadelphia. I don't miss much about Pennsylvania. But there was a totally awesome fruit CSA. And there was a dosa place (Dosa Hut and Chat House) on Germantown Pike that was inexpensive and awesome.
posted by leahwrenn at 7:32 PM on October 15, 2014


A maid who had been employed by the family for decades was fired because she had an affair with the driver?

Bring the Rotimatics. One for everyone. Sarala first.
posted by 1adam12 at 7:32 PM on October 15, 2014 [6 favorites]


Anyone got a good recipe for making dosa at home? I can let it ferment overnight, no problem. We don't have any sort of Indian restaurant here, much less a dosa place
posted by leahwrenn at 7:33 PM on October 15, 2014


It's not cultural appropriation to appreciate aspects of other peoples' culture

What's interesting about this article is that there are two different things at play here - dosa as Indian food that happens to be served in America, which white people are welcome to partake of and appreciate, and dosa as appropriated hipster prop. To illustrate, there are two very different kinds of dosa restaurants in the US. One is the kind that she mentions (in fact, I know and have been to Dosa Royale, the restaurant that she mentions). Dosa Royale is a hipster restaurant through and through - the staff is white, young, and heavily tattooed; the place has the kind of totally obvious faux-authenticity (trying way too hard to look like and Indian market that's not trying hard at all); hell, it literally started as a food truck in Williamsburg before switching to brick and mortar. There, a dosa isn't about being a food - it's a prop for a hipster performativity that needs something new to show off knowing about now that everyone knows about roti canai. Knowing idli from thali now is what knowing shoyu from tonkatsu was ten years ago.

The other kind is the southern Indian restaurant in the US. It's generally owned by Indian immigrants to the US who are making food that they know primarily for other Indians, both immigrant and tourist. They're often (but not always) vegetarian, and can have pretty confusing menus (what's a thali and why does it cost twice as much as a dosa?). I've primarily seen these in San Francisco (probably because of the city's fairly sizable Indian population). I've been to the Dosa Hut in Philly that Leahwrenn mentioned, it's a good example of this kind.

Appreciating another culture and its food is all well and good - in fact, food and foodways can be a great way to learn about and appreciate another culture and way of life. Eating is a true universal. What's frustrating, though is the tendancy for the hipster obsession with authenticity to turn appreciation in to appropriation - which seems to be what she's talking about.

This totally ignores the whole inconvenience-as-luxury-for-the-rich aspect of the piece, which I thought was a great point - the paragraph that Fizz pulls out really resonated with me. But this post is already super long.

(by the way, the Indian Chipotle that you're talking about is apparently a street food called a Bombay Frankie. There's been a pretty great frankie place called Roti Roll in NYC - Morningside Heights specifically - for about a decade, definitely worth checking out if you're in the neighborhood).
posted by Itaxpica at 7:35 PM on October 15, 2014 [7 favorites]


in my limited exposure to dosas you need a really, really big pan because they're usually like 16+ inches in diameter. that's the major challenge for making them at home. Plus they're paper-thin and properly handling them seems like it takes some skill. even more so than crepes.
posted by GuyZero at 7:38 PM on October 15, 2014


Come to Toronto- we already have it, but it's called "Roti".

The butter chicken roti from Gandhi's on Queen West? to kill and/or die for.
posted by GuyZero at 7:41 PM on October 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


Look, the dosa may cost $12*, but Dosa Royale is so much better than all other Indian food in the neighborhood, I will not hear a bad word about it.

I realize this isn't the point of the article. I'm just saying.

* which really doesn't bother me given the location and amount of food you get
posted by retrograde at 7:42 PM on October 15, 2014


it seems almost selfish to not want other cultures to experience your childhood comfort food because it might take away from the specialness of those memories.

I also feel like it's preferable for your cuisine to become the next commercialized new trend than for some other commercialized trend to eradicate your cuisine.

I grew up in South Louisiana, which used to have its own indigenous coffee culture. Now there's a Starbucks in my hometown and my guess is that folks my age and younger (Millennials?) wouldn't have the first idea of what to do with canned condensed milk.

Would I have griped if New Orleans style coffee with chicory had become the new hotness? Sure. But, damn, I wish New Orleans style coffee/chicory/condensed milk was even a thing you could get anywhere outside my mawmaw's kitchen.
posted by Sara C. at 7:43 PM on October 15, 2014 [8 favorites]


That was a nice read. But look, a lot of veggies like tomatoes made their way into India and was incorporated into Indian cuisine. I tend to see the use of arugula or goat cheese in dosa pretty much the same way. We all win when we try to make the best of what is available. And as has been mentioned in the article, Dosa (in all its glorious forms will be alive & ruling ) in South India and as long as we have a migrant population moving back and forth, it will do so in the US as well.
posted by asra at 7:46 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm waiting for blueberry grunt (hot blueberry sauce with steamed dumpling) to take the world by storm.

I would happily water down my childhood memories of my mother making blueberry grunt on the wood stove with wild blueberries I picked - just to be able to have blueberry grunt more conveniently.
posted by jb at 7:46 PM on October 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


We all win when we try to make the best of what is available.

I agree with your point in general, but I'd like to offer a two-word counterpoint: Olive Garden.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 7:53 PM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


Immigrant with a talent for cooking and a level head when it comes to balancing the books and promoting her goods comes to America. That ain't gentrification, kids.

OK, "Chinese" cuisine has issues, and to a lesser extent, Mexican. Don't saddle Indian, Brazilian, Moroccan, Vietnamese, etc. cuisine with that, as they tend to be closer to Hungarian or French restaurants - what middle-class Americans imagine French or Hungarian food to be like.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:55 PM on October 15, 2014


Would I have griped if New Orleans style coffee with chicory had become the new hotness?

Close enough?
posted by retrograde at 8:01 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


White Privilege is when the availability of literally anything else obliterates your childhood comfort food of Kraft Mac 'n Cheese and then the Hipsterization of Mac 'n Cheese Happens. Double Win.

Well, white privilege is also just focusing on the food and the possibilities of "Indian Chipotle" and focusing on "Oh so I'm not allowed to"...instead of the specific personal cultural experience of the author.

I mean, I can easily see from personal experience how everything about your culture and food and fashion can be commodified and exoticized and "oh, that food is so yummy" but not having your voice as a person of that culture heard. It's not that the first thing is so bad in itself, it's that combined with the second thing it can be really frustrating, confusing, and hurtful.
posted by sweetkid at 8:06 PM on October 15, 2014 [11 favorites]


Call it Ganesha and you already have a mascot

LET ME GIVE YOU ALL THE MONEYS!!!
posted by eriko at 8:09 PM on October 15, 2014


Is this where I can suggest that the world produce a Liam-Neeson-repped Indian fast food restaurant called Naan Stop? Because that would be a dynamite combination.
posted by zoetrope at 8:13 PM on October 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


Appreciating another culture and its food is all well and good - in fact, food and foodways can be a great way to learn about and appreciate another culture and way of life. Eating is a true universal. What's frustrating, though is the tendancy for the hipster obsession with authenticity to turn appreciation in to appropriation

What, exactly, is being appropriated here? There's a lot of hand waving about hipsters here, and I guess I'm just supposed to follow along because hipsters are bad. The the only difference I can see in your invented distinction between "two kinds of dosa" is that one is Indian owed and one is white owned.

Applying the concept of appropriation to food just doesn't make sense.

I mean, I can easily see from personal experience how everything about your culture and food and fashion can be commodified and exoticized and "oh, that food is so yummy" but not having your voice as a person of that culture heard.

I don't follow here. What voice are you supposed to get in regards to someone else's lunch?
posted by spaltavian at 8:37 PM on October 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


The the only difference I can see in your invented distinction between "two kinds of dosa" is that one is Indian owed and one is white owned.

Nice try, and I know I mentioned ownership, but that's not really the point - for all I know, Dosa Royale is Indian owned (if entirely white hipster staffed). The point is that one kind costs $12 and comes with a kale salad, and the other one... well, doesn't. If you really don't grasp the distinction, I'm not sure there's anything I (or the author) can say to change your mind.
posted by Itaxpica at 8:46 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]



I don't follow here. What voice are you supposed to get in regards to someone else's lunch?


The article never says anyone isn't allowed to eat anything. I certainly have not said anyone is or isn't allowed to eat anything for their lunch.

I'm talking about the author discussing cultural experience and the experience of the immigrant diaspora, which most people in this thread have overlooked to talk about lunch and make jokes about Ganesha/elephants. I haven't seen much engaging with the article, just "don't take away my yummy dosa," which, the author doesn't want to take it away.
posted by sweetkid at 8:47 PM on October 15, 2014 [10 favorites]


Nice try, but what I'm saying is that one kind costs $12 and comes with a kale salad, and the other one... well, doesn't. If you really don't grasp the distinction I'm not sure there's anything I can say to change your mind.

You keep not making the distinction, though. You never explain it, other than some vague thing about hipsters being obsessed with authenticity. Does that mean they wear costumes or something? Even in your comment right there, you don't even finish the sentence.
posted by spaltavian at 8:52 PM on October 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


Did you even read the article? There's a very specific kind of young, moneyed white culture that the author talks about (hence "vegan and gluten free" as a touchstone), which I assume you're familiar with because you're here discussing an article that deals with it extensively. I kind figured that allusions to it on my part should have been enough to pick up on.

If you really didn't catch that whole piece of it, I can start from first principles and lay it all out - it's easy to forgot that not everyone lives in Brooklyn and witnesses this stuff first-hand.
posted by Itaxpica at 9:01 PM on October 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


I don't follow here. What voice are you supposed to get in regards to someone else's lunch?

The article never says anyone isn't allowed to eat anything. I certainly have not said anyone is or isn't allowed to eat anything for their lunch.


I never said that either of you said that. But the article isn't just about their personal experience, it's about Indian culture being under siege, and the Rotimatic is accused of reinforcing the idea that things only matter if they have white people's attention. The author is definitely making a claim about what Westerners are doing, by eating dosa, which is where my question comes from. I don't think eating dosa creates any particular obligation on anyone here, but my reading of your comment is that it does.
posted by spaltavian at 9:02 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Did you even read the article? There's a very specific kind of young, moneyed white culture that the author talks about (hence "vegan and gluten free" as a touchstone),

I assumed you were actually making a more substantive point, because that is a big nothing burger.
posted by spaltavian at 9:04 PM on October 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


Call it Ganesha and you already have a mascot. People love elephants.

This is actually a great example of cultural appropriation in action.
posted by Slurms MacKenzie at 9:10 PM on October 15, 2014 [13 favorites]


l experience, it's about Indian culture being under siege, and the Rotimatic is accused of reinforcing the idea that things only matter if they have white people's attention.

The author is questioning their own assumptions in this article about what it means for white people to like a thing. Yes, part of it is calling out that things only seem to "matter" when white people like it (in America) but that is the kind of thing a lot of nonwhite American people tend to feel. That's what I mean by "voice," that is a thing people identify with. It doesn't mean "How Dare You Eat a Dosa," it means, I remember when I would bring Indian desserts to school and kids were like OMG your family eats DUST EWWWW you eat DUST for dessert EWW that food STINKS and now suddenly all that stuff is cool, but only when filtered through food trucks and fusion and things. Again, it's not that that's so terrible, it's that the experience of feeling shut out and othered, the feeling of conflict between your origin culture and American culture, gets sniffed at and ignored because it's "Taking away my dosa" or "you don't get to talk about my lunch."

like here, the author talks about this conflict.
When I first discovered that white people knew and liked dosas, I was flattered. But why did I need the approval of white eaters? Their nod made me feel like people cared about that weird stalactite of South India that I am from. I was reinforcing the idea that a thing only matters when white people think it worthy of their time or thought. The Rotimatic reinforces this idea without regret.

I can understand that, the "wow, white people think this is cool!" feeling mixed with having to question why that matters. But I can understand it because I remember people pretending to throw up and pass out when I opened my Indian lunch as a kid. So I stopped bringing that lunch and told my parents not to give me it.

But now it's cool to have lunch that smells like that. That's why people talk about appropriation.
posted by sweetkid at 9:13 PM on October 15, 2014 [12 favorites]


I thought this was beautifully written.

Dosa, in its true original form, is South Indian trucker food, made in roadside stands by families who have made them for generations. Even if they taste exactly the same at a trendy NYC bistro, or even better with arugula and goat cheese, is it fair to say that it is no longer the same food, because of context? And is it fair for the person who will probably never eat it in the original context again to mourn the loss?
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:22 PM on October 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


It doesn't mean "How Dare You Eat a Dosa," it means, I remember when I would bring Indian desserts to school and kids were like OMG your family eats DUST EWWWW you eat DUST for dessert EWW that food STINKS and now suddenly all that stuff is cool, but only when filtered through food trucks and fusion and things.

It's like you're in my head. Or put another way: when white people eat Indian food, they're hella cultured. When Indian people eat Indian food, they're parochial.
posted by Ragini at 9:24 PM on October 15, 2014 [34 favorites]


I can remember when tofu seemed like the weirdest, grossest, most foreign concept ever. Now they sell 4 kinds of it at Walmart in my small hometown.
posted by the jam at 9:24 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]



It's like you're in my head. Or put another way: when white people eat Indian food, they're hella cultured. When Indian people eat Indian food, they're parochial.


Yeah, that's well said. Thank you.
posted by sweetkid at 9:25 PM on October 15, 2014 [5 favorites]


Also, ladoo, that is the thing kids said tasted like dust and I still feel bad that my parents sent me to school with that delicious food and I came home and told them never to give it to me again because the kids pretended to puke and I should bring yellow cake cupcakes forever and ever.
posted by sweetkid at 9:27 PM on October 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


Also, barfi. EW, YOU EAT BARF?? AND IT'S SILVER?! SO GROSS.
posted by Ragini at 9:38 PM on October 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


They didn't even taste it! But said it tasted like dust. Like how do you know--
posted by sweetkid at 9:42 PM on October 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


sweetkid and ragini... you two are killin' it in this thread. :)

wanted to third your sentiments. as soon as i heard the term "Columbusing" i was like "yeah! that's just like how people do w/ desi food!"

i appreciate the sentiment from so many people, but tend to bristle when one of the first things they mention to me is "wow, i LOVE indian food!" and then go on to say "...yeah, like gulab jamun and chicken tikka masala!"

i get that they're making an effort, but it also feels like "othering" to me. and that bums me out.

with that said, ladies, i will gladly take your parents' barfi, ladoo and add kheer to the list of "omg EW" desserts that are actually so fucking delicious. <3

===
also thinking about this lately... how un-photogenic is desi food? i totally want to start a food blog that's just filled with amazing food that will never photograph well... like dal. ha!

dal is a good case study for me. because people will lose their minds at a french lentil soup but dismiss a good dal.
posted by raihan_ at 9:43 PM on October 15, 2014 [10 favorites]


Yea also my parents are from Western India, Mumbai and such, which is not where most American Indian food comes from (south and north) but I get blank stares when I try to explain that to non Desis. Like a curry or idli dosa was a special cultural experience in my house.

Bhelpuri, anyone ? Bueller?
posted by sweetkid at 9:52 PM on October 15, 2014 [7 favorites]


BHELPURI

WANT
posted by raihan_ at 9:53 PM on October 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


with that said, ladies, i will gladly take your parents' barfi, ladoo and add kheer to the list of "omg EW" desserts that are actually so fucking delicious. <3

Gulab jamun is my favorite.
posted by sweetkid at 9:54 PM on October 15, 2014


leotrotsky: What you are looking for is the Kati roll.
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 10:36 PM on October 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


dal is a good case study for me. because people will lose their minds at a french lentil soup but dismiss a good dal.

You can pry the dal makhani out of my cold, dead hands. That's probably one of my top ten favorite things about being mostly-vegetarian (as a lactose-intolerant type, I'm super sad that a lot of the Indian cuisine popular in the US is dairy based but I do love dal makhani anyway).

As for the article itself, I'm as conflicted about it as I think the author is. Dual identity, stepping between two worlds, not being comfortable seeing elements of the old (dosa, in this case) co-opted into the new? Totally makes sense. I appreciate the author publicly wrestling with some of her issues (the not-quite discussion of skin color as privilege, wanting things to stay as they were in her childhood) though I'm not sure I agree with all her conclusions.
posted by librarylis at 10:39 PM on October 15, 2014


It's like you're in my head. Or put another way: when white people eat Indian food, they're hella cultured. When Indian people eat Indian food, they're parochial.

White Americans, maybe. I will say in passing that this isn't something that's shared in the UK.
posted by jaduncan at 11:33 PM on October 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


So I suppose all non-100% people of Indian descent in Trinidad, Malaysia, Surinam, Indonesia et al. infinitum are all "appropriating" roti in the same way as dosa's getting "appropriated." Oh yeah, and the new world called and wants India and Thailand to stop "appropriating" their chili peppers.

This is so much nonsense. Everybody eat everybody else's food and nobody will be bombing anyone. I mean, seriously, any nation that declares war on Ethiopia will have to fight me first. After I finish this kitfo, that is....
posted by digitalprimate at 11:45 PM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


So I suppose all non-100% people of Indian descent in Trinidad, Malaysia, Surinam, Indonesia et al. infinitum are all "appropriating" roti in the same way as dosa's getting "appropriated."

*perks up*

sure sure I volunteer as tribute to the #notalldosas argument.

/did not actually volunteer as tribute
posted by cendawanita at 12:13 AM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


I really liked this article, imo the writer captures a certain kind of feeling/atmosphere, a sort of weird proud/alienated sense of home, really well. How I relate to what she's talking about is through sorta/kinda a funhouse mirror: the home-cooking I grew up with is by and large French, because my dad is the family cook and he's French. In the US, those dishes, cooked in the way that makes them taste like what I had at home growing up, are pretty much impossible to find except at "fancy" restaurants (or at least that's the case ime). But when you're feeling like you're a zillion miles from home/home maybe doesn't even exist and you want to feel like you're not *totally* alone and strange, so you really need someone to cook you some of that comfort food that *is* "home" to you...it's a weird thing to go to get that comfort food in a "fancy" restaurant...because the whole point of going to a "fancy" restaurant is that it's *not* supposed to be homey, that it's supposed to be offering a special/different/thrillingly!strange experience for its customers. So it's like, as you're eating this comfort food and feeling at home in a lot of ways, the whole experience is simultaneously being packaged to make you-the-customer feel as alienated as possible, because thrilling!alienation is part of what the restaurant is selling. But holing yourself up and cooking yourself some comfort foods from childhood only makes you feel culturally even more isolated/weird, and is alienating in this strange kind of over-heated way, too, so it's not like that's necessarily a better choice. I dunno, it's just such a weird feeling, when a place apparently exists or is known about because it's selling something "special" or "different," but it's actually selling what's most familiar and homey to you? Going to a place like that is so strangely flattering yet alienating at the same time. There's a lot that is probably going over my head in this article, but I like that the writer articulated that flattered/alienated feeling so well.

On the upside, though, at least she likes dosas. It's also irritating when the one hated old food from your childhood that you had to choke down on pain of parental punishment becomes a Hot! New! Fad! and suddenly everyone is saying how much they love it and getting it at restaurants and maybe even hinting that you should host some Big Dinner for all your friends featuring your home-cooked Authentic Version of (Nasty) Childhood Food and stuff like that.

As a migraine-and-insomnia-driven digression, and being real here, not making light: this is something that I really like about the show Supernatural, that it captures some of that "the point of this place is that it's not supposed to be ~anyone's~ home/comfort zone, but for you, you're there out of homesickness because it's as close to home as you're going to get" uneasy (sort of invisible, even?) feeling, too. I feel like 90% of the episodes feature the leads going to some place, a motel or a restaurant or something, in a pretty conscious effort to keep up a sort of coherent/consistent feeling of "home" -- and wherever they go *is* sort of homey and familiar to them, it's at least hitting the marks in a lot of the right ways, but it's also sort of not homey at all, because part of its raison d'etre is that it's not anybody's home (it's always a place that's essentially temporary/made for transience)?
posted by rue72 at 12:15 AM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


Eddie Huang in "Fresh Off The Boat" captured this feeling pretty well, too, but from the perspective of someone who grew up cooking and working in his dad's restaurants:

"Most americans don’t even understand the differences between shanghainese, hunanese, sichuanese, or cantonese food. Even in NYC, where these cuisines are readily available, people are just now starting to understand and identify the nuances. A lot of chefs are in a hurry to profit off of appropriated versions of ethnic food without any respect, recognition, or understanding of where these flavors come from. There’s a double standard, too. When my dad had a steakhouse, everyone questioned whether a Chinese person was qualified to open a steakhouse. We had to have white people front like the chef and owners. It was not OK for my dad to sell steak, but white people cooking Asian get more attention than the people in Chinatown who actually know what the fuck they’re doing."
posted by ShawnStruck at 12:48 AM on October 16, 2014 [7 favorites]


Dosa, in its true original form, is South Indian trucker food, made in roadside stands by families who have made them for generations.... is it fair for the person who will probably never eat it in the original context again to mourn the loss?

Yea, probably. But is it also fair for someone whose original context was having dosa cooked for them by servants to equally mourn the loss of that context?
posted by the agents of KAOS at 1:01 AM on October 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


to expand a bit more on my previous comment, now that I have a bit more time, speaking only as a Malaysian, Indian food like dosa (or thosai as we call them) is recognised as a food of a particular community, (generally) prepared by them and sold by them and associated definitively with them. It's as Malaysian as any food in our mixed up cultural palate, but the intellectual ownership (as it were) of it is appreciably that of the local Indian community. It wasn't classed up or made 'respectable' once the majority ethnicity likes it, and in fact, the other communities may like it, but there is no sense of general movement where its production is taken over by the others to be made 'cool', leaving the Indians out.

And I think that's a crucial distinction between appreciation and appropriation. I hope I'm not being too precious about it.
posted by cendawanita at 1:21 AM on October 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


I'd miss the being served on hand and foot more than the dosas, which are not as delicious when everyone is your equal.
posted by Renoroc at 4:43 AM on October 16, 2014


I don't know a good dosa from a bad dosa, I love eating them in the basement cafeteria Ganesh Temple in Flushing, Queens.
posted by Drab_Parts at 4:57 AM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm just waiting for phuchka / panipuri / golgappa (depending on where you're from) to become the next Big Thing. I suspect I'll be waiting a while because no matter how carefully you photograph it or try to style it, it never stops being kind of gross-looking. It is the taste of home and childhood for me, though, in a nutshell.

Great article - I especially liked the loving, worried, guilty way she wrote about the family maid and driver - really managed to capture the relationship a lot of us middle-class brown people growing up in South Asia had as kids with the family servants (I hate that word, but it is what it is) - it is awkward and I feel weird thinking/talking about it, but I can't and don't want to deny the love and nurturing I received from people who were essentially paid to work in my family's house. And that complicated love for your history is really what I took away from the article, rather than dosas.
posted by Ziggy500 at 5:50 AM on October 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


One of the effects of the 'hipster' search for authenticity is that I can find more authentically Indian food at a food truck/pop up than in many Indian restaurants. The Indian restaurants in the UK have traditionally been staffed by Bangladeshis making 'Indian' food to appeal to the British using pre-made curry paste purchased from the wholesaler. Authentic Indian restaurants have been few and far between. This has all changed a lot in the past ten years with existing Indian restaurants rebranding themselves as Keralan, Gujerati and Rajasthani to retro fit authenticity as well as restaurants opening that make a point of specialising in regional cuisine.
No disrespect to Bangladesh, Kerala, Gujerat, Rajasthan or any other region, they all have great food. It's just ironic that the demand for authentic experiences has given them a cache that previously was denied them while the generic 'Indian' was ascendant. They were forced to hide in plain sight while 'Indian' became the new national cuisine. Now that is old hat and authenticity is en vogue.

Some of the effects of the organic, gluten free, vegan 'hipster' trend is beneficial to me. I got some vegan rendang at a pop up place recently, authentically made by Indonesians with some amazing sambal. There is little chance of getting that in Indonesia as it is a beef dish, so it is made with beef not tofu and mushrooms. If you want tofu and mushrooms you eat a tofu and mushroom dish.

The one thing you are never going to get is authentic pricing! It is cheaper to get British 'Indian' than authentic Indian street food in the UK and that isn't cheap compared to India.
posted by asok at 6:33 AM on October 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


authenticity is en vogue

Was there ever a time when what was thought to be authentic was not en vogue? When known fraudulence was in?

This is a real question.
posted by josher71 at 7:15 AM on October 16, 2014


As an Indian, I don't want ANYONE touching my dosas and idlis.

Can I have a slice of your pizza though?
posted by mysticreferee at 7:17 AM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Doesn't it piss anybody off that instead of being a bitter unsweatened drink from Mexico, everybody is eating chocolate, and eating it wrong?
posted by happyroach at 7:18 AM on October 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


There is this funny thing that happens with the iterations of menus. "Ethnic" restaurants are still a relatively new thing where I grew up in the midwest. I think we're up to chinese and mexican. My parents, who love trying different kinds of food, are vaguely familiar with the concept american chinese food. I've lived in college towns and cities most of my adult life, so I have my own concept of the sorts of chinese restaurants that exist.

We were driving in the car, attempting to call in an order to a restaurant in town and I got to listen to my mother try to order a few items having no idea of the menu names. She ordered a few protein+vegetable items and hot and sour soup. I wanted some sort of vegetable, so I asked her to ask if they had either string beans, eggplant or spinach/some sort of greens. I struck out on all of these items. In my mind these were standard, like Panda Express standard. We ended up with a bunch of dishes that were protein + broocoli and carrots in brown sauce.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 7:31 AM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Was there ever a time when what was thought to be authentic was not en vogue? When known fraudulence was in?

This is a real question.
posted by josher71 at 10:15 AM on October 16 [+] [!]


I don't know if it counts, but there was that weird fad in the 00s of "Molecular Gastronomy", where people would pay top dollar for food made with Cheeto dust technology, because "SCIENCE!"
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 8:04 AM on October 16, 2014


there was also the canned pineapple cake and pigs in a blanket and things set in aspic world of midcentury America.
posted by sweetkid at 8:35 AM on October 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


But didn't people in midcentury America still want "authentic experiences"? My point is that it seems weird to be like "this new hipster authenticity" when (white? American?)people have always wanted that. Businesses just got better at providing it.
posted by josher71 at 8:51 AM on October 16, 2014


I think in most of the 20th century the push was toward convenience and processing because it was more "modern" and the reason the authenticity seems "new" is because there seems to be a value now in taking hours to make things, hand crafting/locally sourcing everything, individuality at the cost of mass production/convenience.
posted by sweetkid at 9:08 AM on October 16, 2014


Huh. Maybe there needs to be a different word than authentic.
posted by josher71 at 9:17 AM on October 16, 2014


Come to Toronto- we already have it, but it's called "Roti".

Wait, is roti a Toronto thing? Where they put a curry in a roti and fold it all up for you, like at Gandhi's? Looks like this? Sometimes Caribbean style curry (jerk chicken, lamb, etc) sometimes more Indian (chana masala, malai kofta, etc)?

Other places must have this, right?
posted by AmandaA at 9:34 AM on October 16, 2014


Close enough?

That in no way resembles anything actually indigenous to New Orleans. It's just called New Orleans Iced Coffee for some random reason. This is like if someone opened a dosa place and then you went there and they handed you a burrito or a stack of buttermilk pancakes.
posted by Sara C. at 10:19 AM on October 16, 2014


Anyone got a good recipe for making dosa at home?

I never wrote down chef's recipe, but one of the key things is a flat top. Dosas are (relatively) huge and you need a lot of space. As GuyZero said, they're more finicky than crepes.

And so, so delicious. He put nigella seeds in his, omnomnomnom. Admittedly, chef was about as white as it's possible to be without being transparent, but one of his early gigs was under a surly chef from India, and he learned a lot.

I'm waiting for blueberry grunt (hot blueberry sauce with steamed dumpling) to take the world by storm.

Oh my god I had this in Halifax a million years ago and the memories--and my abject failure, despite liberal application of wine, to prise the recipe out of the unspeakably lovely woman who cooked it--still haunts me. She may have drunk me under the table by a fair margin.

Applying the concept of appropriation to food just doesn't make sense.

Well, it does and it doesn't, and several people here have explained why it does. For me, where I draw the line is not respecting the cultural surroundings of a dish. For example: I used to work at a fusion restaurant here in Toronto, now defunct (Kultura, if anyone cares). Many of the dishes were wildly imaginative and extremely popular--beef carpaccio wrapped around fresh pear with homemade kimchi, mushroom orrecchiette with truffle and surprise red wine & pear chutney hidden in the bottom of the bowl. Successful fusion, not fusion confusion. One of our dishes was a maki with squid ink rice. I had to make it many times a day, and I always felt very awkward; in Japan, it takes ages to apprentice in a sushi restaurant to the point where you're even allowed to make the rice, let alone slice fish and assemble a maki. Yet, there I was, having to do so. Sure, it was tasty. But there was no honour given at all to where the dish originated, or the culture associated with it, and that made me feel weird. That's appropriation in action; taking without acknowledging that you are doing so. I'm not saying we should have said something on the menu, that's just silly, but we should have been taught by someone from that tradition on how to make the rice at the very least, if that makes sense.

On the other hand, it's also the only kitchen I've worked in so far that had a tandoor, and our tandoor chef was actually from India. He was hired loooooooooong before I was, took one look at their recipe for naan, and changed it--to the naan his grandmother used to make. Same with the paneer. Sure, we did our naan paneer in a nontraditional way--truffle and honey were involved--but we had a connection to the history and the culture around making these things. I feel like that's important. Not that I buy into 'authenticity,' whatever the fuck that means anymore, but I do very much buy into honouring where something comes from if it's not quote-unquote yours.

That all comes from a certain amount of weird privilege though: growing up in Toronto, often called the most multicultural city in the world, means that you have the most stunning array of world cuisines--cooked by people who grew up with those cuisines--on your doorstep. Want Ethiopian? Great! Wait, do you mean southern or northern Ethiopia? How about Chinese tonight, honey? Yes please.. but are we getting Hunan, Szechuan, Cantonese...? Japanese; do you mean ramen or sushi or kaiseki? How about Hungarian, Polish, German, Nordic, etc etc etc. We're spoiled. But I think part of being spoiled in this wonderfully delicious way also means really needing to respect that some foods hold significant places in the cultures in which they arose.

Weirdly, there's not a whole lot (some, but not lots) of variation in Mexican cuisine here--not nearly the variety you'd get in the southern parts of the US.

I don't know if it counts, but there was that weird fad in the 00s of "Molecular Gastronomy", where people would pay top dollar for food made with Cheeto dust technology, because "SCIENCE!"

It's not a fad, it's not weird, and please don't dismiss a legitimate culinary school because you don't understand it. The point--and not to derail--of molecular gastronomy (a term most chefs who do it despise) is to look at different expressions of texture and flavour by approaching food in a different way. Which is no different than literally every single cuisine on the planet.

Also if anyone has some chana masala (had some that was delicious at a place out on Gerrard whose name escapes me recently) or Vietnamese coffee (Sara C., is that basically Louisiana coffee minus the chicory?) it is time for lunch...
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:27 AM on October 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


tl;dr version of above: if you're making it because it's fucking delicious, more power to you. If you're making it for trendy cred and ignoring where it came from, DIAF.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:39 AM on October 16, 2014


But didn't people in midcentury America still want "authentic experiences"?

This is a really good point. All those Jello molds were a reference to classical French cuisine, pushed through twenty different cultural funhouse mirrors. Canned pineapple was the midcentury answer to Hawaiian and generally Asian cuisine. Everybody thought they were being totally "authentic" back then, too.

There's a great scene in an early episode of Mad Men where Betty Draper hosts an "international" themed dinner that includes (IIRC) a bunch of sad midcentury takes on other cuisines, topped off with Heineken (for the Netherlands) and (I think?) some kind of shitty German or Austrian wine nobody is into nowadays. She's totally earnest about it, and there's nothing there about improving the foods of these inferior countries through science. She seems to really believe that Rumaki is an actual thing.

Though, of course, that's 1960 as filtered through the lens of the 2000s, so, I don't know, maybe it's wrong?
posted by Sara C. at 10:40 AM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


But I think part of being spoiled in this wonderfully delicious way also means really needing to respect that some foods hold significant places in the cultures in which they arose.

What does respect entail here? What are the actions?
posted by josher71 at 10:41 AM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


There's a great scene in an early episode of Mad Men where Betty Draper hosts an "international" themed dinner that includes (IIRC) a bunch of sad midcentury takes on other cuisines, topped off with Heineken (for the Netherlands) and (I think?) some kind of shitty German or Austrian wine nobody is into nowadays. She's totally earnest about it, and there's nothing there about improving the foods of these inferior countries through science. She seems to really believe that Rumaki is an actual thing.

I really want to reenact that whole party with the costumes and food. Like I think it's what the kids call cosplay.
posted by sweetkid at 10:46 AM on October 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


But I think part of being spoiled in this wonderfully delicious way also means really needing to respect that some foods hold significant places in the cultures in which they arose.

What does respect entail here? What are the actions?


To me it means reading pieces like this and reading reactions from people who are part of that immigrant diaspora (and we've had many comments from South Asians (American/Brit/etc) who recognize things in this piece) and trying to understand what they're saying and not assuming they're trying to make you stop eating dosas or are going to come slap lunch out of your hand or something.
posted by sweetkid at 10:51 AM on October 16, 2014 [11 favorites]


what if you were really hungry and no one was looking though.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:55 AM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


What does respect entail here? What are the actions?

I think it means understanding the context of where your food comes from. I probably came across as dogmatic when I was really working through what I think via text. Apologies for that.

Maybe what I'm saying is that if you're going to make something you didn't grow up with, you should have at least a superficial understanding of the space that thing holds in the culture it came from. For example, lots of us in the West will eat plain white rice with soy sauce. It tastes good. In Japan, traditionally, that's something eaten solely (as I understand it) as part of funereal practices. Obviously Japan is not the only place where plain rice is eaten, not by a long shot, but it's worth considering, you know?

I guess what I'm saying is that the actions should be internal--with a serious reality check to make sure you're not just wanking--and not performative. Think about what you're making/eating. Which, now that I've articulated that, means it's really hard to judge whether someone is honouring or appropriating because you don't know what's going on inside their skull. So I'm not sure. Please don't take my externalization of thoughts I didn't know I needed to think through in more detail for dogma, I guess?

Maybe to take an example with less baggage, hot cross buns are a traditional UK thing around Easter. I'm totally fine with eating them anytime (never made them but perhaps I should), but even if you're eating them just for nomnoms maybe it's worth thinking about why people started doing so in the first place? Just thoughts, not telling people what to do.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:02 AM on October 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


I would also throw away my mother's rotis when I went to school. I did it daily for probably a whole school year. It's really an awful thing to do, if you think about it. I felt guilty even as a kid.

I do not think you can compare Indonesia to the US. I lived in Indonesia for four years and went to school there. Indonesia doesn't have the same history of colonialism that the US does, so when Indonesians embrace Indian culture it doesn't feel like hypocrisy. I did not throw away my lunch until I came to the states.

Eddie Huang is fantastic. I have been meaning to read his memoir. His talk with Ta Nehisi Coates was really good.
posted by yaymukund at 11:10 AM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


I think one of the reasons this becomes so complicated is that, look, it doesn't matter that, in Japan, soy sauce plus rice equals funeral food. For one thing, Japan bastardizes American cuisine with the same fervor that the US bastardizes Japanese food. And for another thing, Americans who like to eat that are doing so out of ignorance/personal taste, not as some kind of mockery of Japanese culture.

In the US, we have all these completely normalized ethnic foods that aren't even considered "foreign" at this point. It's hard to moan about authentic sushi rice preparation and then hit up California Pizza Kitchen, or eat a hot dog, or get takeout Chinese. On the other hand, in my opinion the US food scene would be poorer if we eradicated all the bastardized ethnic foods.

Not to mention, of course, that every country bastardizes foreign foods for its own purposes. Chilean hot dogs are fucked, man. Unless you like them that way, in which case more power to you. Poutine is as ridiculous a response to Belgian frites as any other crazy thing Americans have done to fries. India has its own version of inauthentic Chinese food. Peru has local fast food chains that specialize in sandwiches on crustless white bread. In Slovenia I had both borrowed-from-Italy pizza and borrowed-from-Bosnia borek. There's a Cajun restaurant in Istanbul.

But at the same time, I think sweetkid and others have it right. The problem isn't with eating foreign cuisine at all, or even "doing it wrong", or shit, even being a white person who wants to open a taqueria. The problem is when you snidely mention that (for example) Indian food makes you sick, Indians all smell bad because of all those spices they eat, etc. and then flock to Hampton Chutney for a dosa with goat cheese. It's having your cake and eating it too, getting to be racist and also absolving yourself of that racism through a commodified take on global cuisine.
posted by Sara C. at 11:42 AM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


not as some kind of mockery of Japanese culture.

In case that's what came across from what I said, I didn't mean that. Sorry if that was the idea that was perceived.

Poutine is as ridiculous a response to Belgian frites as any other crazy thing Americans have done to fries.

I am Canadian and I will cut you.

hamburger
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:50 AM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


i think that 'respect' entails the following:

- i know the historical and cultural context of the dish
- i know what makes it work
- i think i know how i can make it more interesting

food isn't canon, nor will it ever be. it'll change, shift and adapt to wherever it is, locally/culturally etc.
but it's important that you respect the tradition and (yes) find ways to move it forward without watering it down. (dosas, in point, have that rad fermented tang to them...)

with a wide swath of asian cuisine, guys like my hometown hero Roy Choi (Kogi/Chego/POT), Kris Yenbangroom (NIGHT+MARKET, also in LA), the dudes at Badmaash are finding ways to innovate while still paying homage to their roots. in some ways, that means holding the hands of less-adventurous diners, but none of them have compromised what makes the dish great to the home culture.

sorry if that was rambling. i'm hungry now.
posted by raihan_ at 11:53 AM on October 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


I guess this is just more LA boosterism, but personally I'm just glad to discover that the Mie Tek Tek I had from some Indonesian place yesterday is an actual thing and not an attempt by restaurant owners to placate white people by throwing in something that seems Chinese takeout adjacent.

Also, yes, I am STARVING now.
posted by Sara C. at 11:56 AM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


sara where
posted by raihan_ at 12:02 PM on October 16, 2014


Simpang Asia on National kinda over by Motor Ave just south of the 10 in Palms. I'm not super experienced with Indonesian food, but the overall brand identity (Simpang "Asia", really?) seems pretty "watered down for white people" to me. But yeah I dunno the food was delicious, and menu items seem to correspond to food people in Indonesia actually eat.
posted by Sara C. at 12:08 PM on October 16, 2014


Sara C.: "Not to mention, of course, that every country bastardizes foreign foods for its own purposes. Chilean hot dogs are fucked, man. Unless you like them that way, in which case more power to you. Poutine is as ridiculous a response to Belgian frites as any other crazy thing Americans have done to fries. India has its own version of inauthentic Chinese food. Peru has local fast food chains that specialize in sandwiches on crustless white bread. In Slovenia I had both borrowed-from-Italy pizza and borrowed-from-Bosnia borek. There's a Cajun restaurant in Istanbul."

To me, at least, it's also about political context. Indonesia taking Indian cuisine is fine because Indonesia and India go back.

I don't know much about the countries you've mentioned, but I've been to Indonesian restaurants in Amsterdam. I feel like that might be a more direct comparison.
posted by yaymukund at 12:14 PM on October 16, 2014


Don't all countries "go back", though?

I mean, it's not as if the US colonized India. And yet Dosa Royale seems icky and appropriative. Is American bastardized Indian food somehow "better" than British bastardized Indian food for that reason? Is it less problematic for Americans to eat Thai food than Vietnamese food?

Or, is it only OK if it's a parallel appropriation, without any complicated racial/ethnic baggage? As we speak, someone is unloading the Australian pot pies we ordered for lunch today in my office. Is this OK -- regardless of authenticity or ownership or cultural appropriation -- because Australia has white people, and the US also has white people? What if I eat it while making fun of Ozzie accents and joking around about Crocodile Dundee? Am I still immune from cultural appropriation on account of shared whiteness?

Or does it need to be a country that is nearby? Is Slovenian pizza OK, because Slovenia shares a border with Italy, while American Chinese food is not OK, because China is on the other side of the world?

To me, it's much simpler if you reduce the problems with cultural appropriation to racism. Are people being racist? That's bad. Are people enjoying delicious food without being assholes? That's good.
posted by Sara C. at 12:22 PM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


I think it's also important to avoid assuming that "culture" is something brown people have, and white/first-world people exist in a sort of neutral unmarked space.
posted by Sara C. at 12:25 PM on October 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


"Simpang Asia on National kinda over by Motor Ave just south of the 10 in Palms. I'm not super experienced with Indonesian food, but the overall brand identity (Simpang "Asia", really?) seems pretty "watered down for white people" to me. But yeah I dunno the food was delicious, and menu items seem to correspond to food people in Indonesia actually eat."

The Indonesian grocery store across the street also has a bunch of tasty stuff in a lunch counter setting. It was our go-to for Indonesian spices (and ramen) while we lived over there.
posted by klangklangston at 12:43 PM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


This was an interesting article, though I think that too much of it seemed like reminiscence that hadn't yet jelled into a coherent piece.

I'll also say that for me, dosa are a comfort food — the shitty BBQ place across the street from my high school burned down and was replaced by a dosa joint called Mysore Woodlands after an unrelated restaurant in India. It was cheap and filling, and went great with twigim from a Korean lunch counter a few doors down. They were spicy and bitter (I've never acquired a taste for the bitter pickles), and different from the mostly Punjabi Indian that the other joints in town had. As a vegetarian, Indian joints were one of the few places where I could be almost certain of getting a decent meal growing up.

But I also grew up in a place where the big Indian restaurant (Raja Rani) used to take a food truck to fairs and serve vegetables jalfrezi in a pita pocket with lettuce and mint chutney. For an American living in America, "authenticity" only really means that it'll be decently spiced, which is the general failing of American vegetarian food in general — Mexican, Chinese, Indian, Thai, whatever, the only reason I would care about "authentic" is because American versions tend to be so bland.
posted by klangklangston at 1:02 PM on October 16, 2014


Sara C.: "To me, it's much simpler if you reduce the problems with cultural appropriation to racism. Are people being racist? That's bad. Are people enjoying delicious food without being assholes? That's good."

Yes, it is much simpler if you look at it that way. Hey, I would love to live in a world with only simple racism, where every racist were as easily identifiable as that white dude wearing an om shirt eating a samosa and complaining about how Indians smell.
posted by yaymukund at 1:07 PM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


I think you're reading something into that which wasn't intended.

I'm in no way saying, like, "well if the Klan uses them for their catering, that's appropriation, but nothing else is."

It's just fucking impossible to separate out which kinds of culinary fusion are cultural appropriation and which are just how food works unless you apply some kind of rule of thumb to it. And I think "is someone here being racist?" is a decent rule of thumb.
posted by Sara C. at 1:15 PM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


I also really like the metric where if you, as a white person, have more access to a certain cuisine than a member of that culture would, that's also definitely appropriation.

Like if it's gross when a Chinese person eats home cooked Chinese cuisine, but it's adventurous and hip when a white person does, yeah, appropriation.

I think the existence of the dosa restaurant that replaces the barbecue restaurant is not, in itself, appropriation.
posted by Sara C. at 1:16 PM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Like if it's gross when a Chinese person eats home cooked Chinese cuisine, but it's adventurous and hip when a white person does, yeah, appropriation.

The thing that's hard about putting it this way though is it plays out this way on more of a societal level than a personal one. Like I don't think a white person who likes eating dosa would also say Indian people smell or Indian people who eat Indian food are parochial. Well, yes, some will, but the thing that strikes me is that there are plenty of people who think of themselves as progressive and cultural who just can't grok how shocking it gets when "white people like it, it's suddenly not something I have to hide." It's this uncomfortable mix of relief and disgust. I mean we've had several people in this thread talking about throwing lunch away as kids because of ridicule.

That's why it's so close to home for some people - because your whole cultural experience can change when white people get on board with something and you feel a bit powerless that you couldn't just have that on your own.
posted by sweetkid at 1:30 PM on October 16, 2014 [14 favorites]


Indian people who eat Indian food are parochial

I am one of the white people who thinks Indian people who eat Indian food are lucky because it's not getting watered down for western palates. I remember going to a friend's place for dinner in high school, and his grandmother making the most incredible food. Didn't want to leave, just wanted to hang out in the kitchen with her and eat all the things.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:11 PM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


but that's the thing, the white people making it cool/Indian people eating it are parochial is societal, not individual. It's great that you think Indian people are lucky because of the food they eat at home, but I bet your Indian friend could feel some societal degree of "your food is weird."

I was just watching the film "Honeymoon"(horror, hated it btw) and at the beginning (not a spoiler) the characters get together because they go to an Indian restaurant on their first date and bond over spending half the night in the bathroom because HAHA instant runs YOU KNOW. And then he goes "fuck you, Indian food, we survived and we're getting married" and they serve Indian food at their wedding as a joke.

My boyfriend probably couldn't hear the next three minutes of the movie because of all the "fuck you right back" I was shouting at the screen. He was like, "I've never wanted to revenge eat Indian food so badly in my life."
posted by sweetkid at 7:12 AM on October 17, 2014 [6 favorites]


I actually think their offensive attitude toward Indian food was supposed to be charming rather than a good reason for them to bite it later in the movie, but that whole sequence made us want them to die.
posted by sweetkid at 8:09 AM on October 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


I totally, totally get your point, but Toronto is pretty amazingly multicultural. Wayyyy back in elementary school, I remember the opposite happening more than once; Indian and Asian kids having lots of people wanting to trade lunch because goddammit, mum made me a peanut butter sandwich again. So yes, it's entirely possible he got a 'your food is weird' thing--I never thought to ask (privilege!)--but in this city it's equally possible it never happened.

Don't get me wrong; Toronto isn't some kind of happy go lucky UN or anything, and I have no doubt what you have experienced also happens here.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:05 AM on October 17, 2014


I don't know, to me what's especially pernicious about the ethnic food stereotypes is that they tend to not only persist in more cosmopolitan places, but are actually worse there.

My family in rural Louisiana has never tried most world cuisines. They are pretty evenly divided between respectful/game to try and stating plainly that they're not interested in eating X because it does not sound appetizing to them. There aren't really any preconceptions about a certain cuisine being undesirable because it's associated with a particular ethnic group, or all foreign foods being gross, or whatever. And these are all people who, not going to lie, are pretty racist in comparison to coastal liberal enclaves. (And adventurousness about food doesn't seem to map at all to relative level of racism, in my experience.)

On the other hand, I never heard more bizarre racist attitudes towards food than when I lived in New York. I've always pegged the "Indian food gives you diarrhea amirite" stuff to people who have been exposed to more cosmopolitan environments, since ignorant rural folk don't even know what Indian food is.
posted by Sara C. at 10:27 AM on October 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


I mean, this article isn't really about dosa, and it's not really about something outside of the white experience either. Every culture and society has their things which make them what they are, and which commodification / universalization causes a certain amount of ambivalence and disquiet; ask anyone who has ever liked some version of punk rock. And for those of you who are saying "it's just dosa, it's hardly a big deal", that's the point. These things are never big. They're always small, incidental, peripheral, and vital.

I don't even do yoga, but yoga in the US frequently irritates me, because I'm Hindu and because these sounds and ideas and symbols matter to me in a way that they can't matter to the casual enthusiast. That doesn't mean they don't matter at all to that enthusiast, and it doesn't mean I want to take anyone's yoga away. It doesn't even mean that I think they're doing it wrong, because doing yoga without those things would be worse, a complete divorce from the context and culture. But then white people smile and say "namaste" to me, and they're just being nice, and ugh: do you even know what you are saying, why are you saying it to me, and why are you only saying it to me and not my white best friend or Korean co-worker? Ganesha is not just a cute elephant head that is so quaint and hilarious, and the Nataraja-asana is not simply a moderately difficult form to accomplish. They are also those things though, and any entity with Ganesha-like attributes would be far less judgmental and far more amused and genial than I am being.

Like sweetkid, my mom's family is from Mumbai. I've never known an India that wasn't Westernizing rapidly and that didn't find significant value in cultural exchange and import/export. But my dad's family is from Vadodara, and a five-minute rickshaw ride from my grandmother's apartment brought us to a second-story restaurant with dosa as big as my 10-year-old torso. It was always, always the last dinner we had before leaving Vadodara to return to Mumbai, and my sister and I loved it. That'll always be what the crisp of a dosa breaking feels like to me; that biennial taste of family is in the idli sambar. Do I need you to have that experience in order to eat dosa; do I even need you to know or care about it? No, of course not. But I do have that experience, and like the author, I cannot avoid my involuntary Proustian memory and must reconcile them with this indifferent present. Melting pots are good, but they're melting pots because they're crucibles, and they burn some things away. Those things are always inessential, and they are always either invisible or inescapable depending on whether you are product or reactant.
posted by Errant at 11:09 AM on October 17, 2014 [10 favorites]


For example, lots of us in the West will eat plain white rice with soy sauce. It tastes good. In Japan, traditionally, that's something eaten solely (as I understand it) as part of funereal practices.

...Oh. My. God. My Japanese housemate was totally treating our dinners together like funerals! She must have been planning to kill us all!

...maybe that explains her little hobby of nailing straw figures to trees when we played too much Aerosmith right before her exams.

Of course she also hated miso soup, avoided traditional Japanese breakfasts, and liked cold cereal. She also like to make the best hamburgers I ever had. I'm conflicted now.

Seriously man, where in the world did you hear that?

What does respect entail here? What are the actions?

Well for a start, bagels. You can get bagels in fucking SAFEWAY now! Have you even considered the religious and cultural importance of that traditional food when you're slathering it with cream cheese and choking it down?

STRAWBERRY cream cheese. Think about it.
posted by happyroach at 12:39 PM on October 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


Christ, I don't remember, it was years and years ago.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:57 PM on October 17, 2014


Tangentially related:

It's weird that LAist is calling gulab jamun "cardamom chamomile donuts", because that feels slightly inaccurate. But upon viewing the recipe, I appreciate the author's use of chamomile tea; that actually seems interesting! Again, whether or not Aarti Sequeira (the author) is Indian or not, she's flipping this dish ever so slightly and not watering it down.

Some may take issue w/ her use of ice cream, but I'm just kicking myself for not having tried kulfi* and gulab jamun together sooner.

*=kulfiiiiiiii omg
posted by raihan_ at 6:55 PM on October 18, 2014


A: is there chamomile in gulab jamun? that feels like a weird pairing to me and kind of out of the blue. Like a menu item that was created because it sounds cool.

B: is there even cardamom in gulab jamun? To me it mostly tastes like sweet/fried

C: I don't think I've ever seen a gulab jamun that wasn't so thoroughly soaked in syrup as to lose all resemblance to a fried dough based dessert

D: yeah stupid white people will call basically anything a doughnut. It's even worse now that donuts are trendy. I personally hate mainstream America's tendency to translate/reduce foreign dishes to something boring idiots will already be familiar with. Just call it what it is actually called not "Red Gravy" or whatever the fuck.

E. kulfi + gulab jamun sounds heavenly and also vaguely like something you'd get at a state fair.
posted by Sara C. at 7:09 PM on October 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


yeah stupid white people will call basically anything a doughnut.

yeah there was that thing for that tv show where they "translated" New Orleans words to "regular" ones and "translated" beignet to donut

I wrote this just to piss off Sara C.
posted by sweetkid at 7:14 PM on October 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


OMG did you see this on my facebook?

Though of course dumb yankees have been calling beignets "donuts" for decades. It's slightly more apt there than in the case of gulab jamun (seriously it only just now occurred to me that gulab jamun are even fried at all; I'd have compared jalebis to funnel cake long before I made the gulab jamun/donut connection), but still, ugh dude seriously it has a name and the name is beignets and you pronounce it ben-YAYs and just remember not to wear black when you eat them is all I ask
posted by Sara C. at 7:39 PM on October 18, 2014


Also, goddammit, why does this thread keep popping back into my Recent Activity during mealtimes. I'm about to finally try the whole ramen with an a slice of American cheese phenomenon, and frankly I blame y'all.
posted by Sara C. at 7:42 PM on October 18, 2014


Speaking of simple cheap foods that have been appropriated by hipsters, of course.
posted by Sara C. at 7:43 PM on October 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm about to finally try the whole ramen with an a slice of American cheese phenomenon, and frankly I blame y'all.

You should see my face right now.
posted by sweetkid at 7:57 PM on October 18, 2014 [4 favorites]


I'm about to finally try the whole ramen with an a slice of American cheese phenomenon, and frankly I blame y'all.

Google tells me that indeed, this is a thing (with great names like "kim cheese ramen") but I have to wonder how often anyone makes it a second time.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:11 PM on October 18, 2014


I will be.
posted by Sara C. at 8:14 PM on October 18, 2014


A: is there chamomile in gulab jamun? NO

B: is there even cardamom in gulab jamun? believe it or not YES

C: some people go to india for enlightenment. i go for sugary engorgement. i practically jumped off an auto rickshaw (right into the path of another oncoming auto rickshaw!!) once because i saw someone frying jalebis on the side of the road. w/ that said, most gulab jamun here are overrated

D: meh

E. i'd go to the state fair that had a kulfi/gulab jamun pairing.

in fact...

some japanese places will do a "tempura ice cream" thing... what about... (!!!!! D: YES)
posted by raihan_ at 12:33 AM on October 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


"w/ that said, most gulab jamun here are overrated"

The biggest reason that I like jalebis and not gulab jamun is because jalebis aren't always rosewater flavored, and rosewater reminds me of hotel soap. I don't mind a hint of rosewater, but it's a flavor that overpowers things really quickly for me.

Two things that I think are interesting to me (as a non-Indian eating Indian food): First, that "Indian food" gets collapsed into one thing, usually Punjabi. It's like serving clam chowder, poi, gumbo, nachos and hot dish all together. The other thing that I think is interesting is the "chain" of India Sweets and Spices, which are usually unrelated but all have the same name (carsonb and I once found ourselves about a block apart at different India Sweets and Spices that are both lunch counters with some groceries but otherwise unrelated). It's more like a store genre than a name. But the closest one to us has a fantastic selection of desserts. (And also bootleg cds of wedding songs.)
posted by klangklangston at 12:34 PM on October 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


(I also like the lunch counters for a couple of reasons: First, since all the food is made in bulk, there's no dickering over spiciness levels — you get what they want, which means fewer disappointing Westerner blandification experiences. Second, the dishes rotate a lot and there's always an old Indian woman that will just tell you what you're going to have if you seem indecisive. They seem to always be right.)
posted by klangklangston at 12:42 PM on October 19, 2014


for all my LA desi food hunters, i present a ranking of every India Sweets and Spices, from most to least legit:

NORTHRIDGE
LOS FELIZ (note: I have frequently been the only Desi customer at this location, which is surreal. it's good but the northridge one is 2x better, at least.)
CULVER CITY (hospital food. sorry.)

klang: the los feliz and culver locations definitely cater towards a non-desi clientele with the steam table selections. the pumpkin or squash curries should never taste like dessert, but they generally do at those two. (also let me know if you're ever at the los feliz one; i work down the block!!)

my favorite (traditional) indian food spot in LA is India Sweet House. the owners are sweet and the food is amazing (get the garlic naan and eggplant). it isn't extravagant, but it's a consistently great version of something my parents would serve at home.

my absolute favorite indian restaurant is badmaash. if i opened a restaurant, that'd be it. now if only i could convince them to start serving chicken 65.
posted by raihan_ at 1:30 PM on October 19, 2014


oh, zam zam market in culver is devastatingly good too. it's the only restaurant where my mom has said "yep. this is better than what i can make at home."
posted by raihan_ at 1:31 PM on October 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


There used to be an India Sweets and Spices on Fairfax and Pico (I spaced that the one on Pico is India Sweet House) and there was another one downtown. The one in Palms on Venice has gone through a couple of ownership changes over the last five years and the quality varies (but honestly, it's still a decent option for that neighborhood). But if I'm down there, I usually go to Mayura for Kerala food.
posted by klangklangston at 9:02 PM on October 19, 2014


First, that "Indian food" gets collapsed into one thing, usually Punjabi.

The even weirder thing is that most of that stuff is not really Punjabi. Aloo gobi is, and saag paneer, and maybe the ubiquitous eggplant curry? But none of the daal I've seen in American Indian restaurants resembles the daal I've been served by my Punjabi former roommate, nor anything I actually ate in Punjab when I was there. Actual real life Punjab has a whole separate set of famous dishes that are known around India as "Punjabi cuisine," none of which you'll ever see in an Americanized Indian restaurant.

And AFAIK the vast majority of all Western Indian Restaurant meat dishes were invented for Western tastes, since every meat dish I had in India was of the bone-in variety, or was a type of meat Americans find revolting, or both. Tikka Masala and Vindaloo are both 100% Western inventions, delicious though they are.
posted by Sara C. at 9:13 PM on October 19, 2014


Vindaloo is Anglo/Portuguese/Goan Indian - the story I learned about it is similar to this wiki entry, where there is a version popular to Goa/Maharashtra but the global variant is different.

I mean something being Anglo Indian is actually a good example of "how can we even gentrify food" - the cultures were so mixed for so long that new words were developed, new cuisines, etc. So I don't think we can even gentrify food, really, but I think that's not the point of this article anyway, as I've already said to exhaustion in this thread, so anyway.

But yeah I always think it's funny when people say they want to come to my house and have my parents cook Indian food for them, because 1) my mom is not the "real cook" of the house and there are no aunties or whatever people heard of, 2) We eat Maharashtran food, which is really simple, like dead simple, beans and vegetables with spices and some rice and chapati. The fast food Mumbai is famous for, people eat that like almost never, it's fast food. It's fun at a party, that's it 3) OK, if you really want a curry, my dad has this recipe for a lamb curry I have made with him and it takes hours, but he won't let you use like a hand mixer or anything so you have to use all hand tools and he nitpicks everything, and then when you eat it it is in fact good but you have to tell him every five seconds that "yes, you were right, that extra microounce of cashew would have RUINED everything and yes also I need to improve my pestle and mortar skills, I will go home and practice now."

So I dunno, come over everyone!
posted by sweetkid at 9:41 PM on October 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


But yeah I always think it's funny when people say they want to come to my house and have my parents cook Indian food for them

I am horrified and amused at that, as my Mom's from South Boston, and my Dad's from South Jersey. My Mom has a story where my Dad once put Pepsi in the Hamburger Helper. My Mom can bake up cookies like no-one's business, but as a working-class WASP, her absolute best recipe is lasagna.

It's really, really good lasagna. She liked the recipe in a magazine sometime in the '80s, and has been intensifying the awesome on it ever since.

This is pertinent, as she =has= been called upon to make a "Typical american dish" by extended family from nowhere near America or Europe.

She makes not the Clam Chowder or Coffee Cake or Liver and Onions of her childhood in these situations. She makes Lasagna.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:08 PM on October 19, 2014


OMG, chicken 65, I forgot about you and your weird name. Also I might be a little scarred by the disgusting chicken 65 sandwich I once had at the CCD at Rajiv Chowk. (Yes, I knew it was going to be terrible, as is all food at CCDs everywhere, but I was very hungry.)

That's why it's so close to home for some people - because your whole cultural experience can change when white people get on board with something and you feel a bit powerless that you couldn't just have that on your own.

I also 100% agree with this.
posted by Ragini at 11:17 PM on October 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


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