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Fusion food at its finest

CHENNAI: Anglo-Indian cuisine is a heritage cuisine that is gradually disappearing from the food scene in recent days. This cuisine is a fusion food that developed primarily when the British ruled over India. A lot has been said about all that was lost as a result, but what was gained is the intermingling of food and culture leading to a richer heritage. This interesting melange gradually gave life to this new form of cuisine. The technique, the spices, the dishes…were all remade to suit the European palate.

Though the prefix Anglo would indicate Anglo-Saxon descent, a broader definition would include other European lineages with the arrival of successive explorers like the Dutch, Portuguese, and French who colonised different pockets of India.

Fusion cuisines are dime a dozen now as creative chefs keep pushing boundaries, but Anglo-Indian cuisine has evolved over a few centuries more organically. Much like the Parsis, the Anglo-Indian community is dwindling and most of them live in Kolkata, Mumbai, and Chennai. A small group also lives in old railway towns and hill stations like Darjeeling and Kalimpong. Many of them have migrated to countries like Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. Over the years, Anglo-Indian cuisine has evolved by adapting to various regions of India. For example, in the south, Anglo Indian curries are made with coconut; in the north, with tomato paste, meat, and potatoes and in the east, with mustard and freshwater fish.

Apart from the common link of Christianity, over time the Anglo-Indians adopted English as their language and the British style of dressing. However, their food habits were developed at the intersection of European dietary traditions with a strong dose of Indian spices. The addition of spices was due to the influence of Indian cooks (khansamas and bawarchis) they employed.

The names of the dishes are very unique and have references to where it was predominantly served — like Dak Bungalows, Railway canteens, and Gentleman Clubs — which were predominantly catering to the elite Europeans. If you think the naming ends there, think again. They have Hell’s chutney/Mother-in-law tongue (due to the deep red colour — a cheeky reference to a nagging mother-in-law), Chicken ding ding, Peeking boy (a play on ridge gourd), Bobo curry, Meatball/Bad word curry… the list of cheekily-named dishes is endless.

The most famous Railway mutton curry has a tasty blend of both Indian and British spices. It was traditionally cooked in the Railway canteens and served in the recreation rooms and first-class dining cars. Similarly, during the British era, Dak Bungalows (Rest houses) were built for government officials and travellers. During their stay, the cooks would make a full-bodied, local-style chicken curry that was named Dak Bungalow chicken curry.

A very interesting dish is the Mulgatwany soup. The origins date back to the British Era. The Tamil comfort food, rasam rice was gradually improvised with meat, apples, and coconut milk and became the ultimate rainy day comfort food — Muligatwany soup. Having adopted Indian food habits they also have a wide variety of rice dishes called pilaf and a milder version of the vindaloo and balchao. Cutlets, croquettes, chutneys, and pickles with an amalgamation of Indian and British spices became common too.

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