Quest for Authenticity


I received an interesting letter from Ananga Radha Dasi. Long but insightful.

“Dear Kurma, I have been plagued by some questions recently. I really need your help! One of my friends has been arguing recently that how can you cook Punjabi food and call it authentic without using onion garlic? Chole without onion garlic is unimaginable!

Actually most people who eat my food do not even realize that there is no onion garlic. But I have been posed by these questions concerning authenticity often, even when it comes to other cuisines like Italian.

People are hardly aware that most of the vegetarian cuisines in India abstain from the use of onion and garlic. As you very well know, it is believed that the predominant use of onion and garlic came into existence during the mughal era.

I have known Punjabi Brahmins who don’t use onion garlic at all. All devout Hindu Punjabis abstain from the use of onion garlic during the 9 days of Navaratri and cook their fabulous cuisine without using any, simply because it is considered unofferable to the gods.

Other cuisines like Bengali, Rajasthani, Gujarati, Kashmiri, etc were also not using onions and garlic. This is with special reference to the Brahmin/Vaishnava and even some trading communities in those respective states. You may be surprised to know that Kashmiri Pandits who are Kashmiri Brahmins who cook meat do not use onion-garlic even in their meat preparations. This is mentioned in a book by Krishna Prasad Dar.

Most of the cookery/food authors and present day chefs use onion garlic and are responsible for spreading the notion that food without it is tasteless.

Please help me answer the question with regards to authenticity.”


My reply:

Thanks for your long letter regarding onions and garlic.

This question of so-called ‘authenticity’ is all about personal, subjective response. I would say: why argue? Why the quest for so-called ‘authentic?’ One person’s authentic is another persons improvisation.

You are not cooking Punjabi food you are cooking Punjabi Prasadam, sacred food. You don’t cook for just the gratification of the tongue, you cook for Krishna, who doesn’t eat onion and garlic. To make this example more clear: when we cook for our loved ones, we offer them what they like to eat not just what I like to eat. That is love.

I say: to hell with so-called authenticity! Your cuisine is authentic in its own right.

And….your fascinating accounts of regional Indian cookery just goes to show that abstinence from garlic and onion has deep historical roots.

What’s all the fuss about onion and garlic? read this whole page….
Posted by Kurma on 14/4/06; 5:47:52 AM

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