How do moder day cookbooks go about constructing conceptions of a national

How do moder day cookbooks go about constructing

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How do moder-day cookbooks go about constructing conceptions of a national cuisine in the context of an increasingly articulated gallery of spe- cialized ethnic and regional cuisines? Although each book has a charac- teristically different strategy, there are a few standard devices. The first is simply to inflate and reify an historicallyspecial tradition and make it serve, This content downloaded by the authorized user from on Wed, 14 Nov 2012 02:34:26 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
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NATIONAL CUISINE: COOKBOOKS IN INDIA I9 metonymously, for the whole. I have already mentioned that Shanta Ranga Rao flatly asserts that hers is a book of Indian recipes when in fact it is much more local in its scope. There is also the widespread assumption, referred to earlier, in cookbooks and restaurants both in India and abroad,that conflates Mughlai food with Indian food. Another strategy for constructing a national cuisine is inductiverather than nominal: The author assembles a set of recipes in a more or less subjective manner and then, in the introduction to the book, gropes for some theme that might unify them. For many books this theme is found, not surprisingly, in the spices and spice combinations, which are often discussed in loving detail. But even here, since regional variation is so great, the searchfor universals is often forgotten. Other authors discuss processes, such as roasting, frying, basting, etcetera, in the Indian context in an effort to tie together the diversity of regional cuisines. Yet otherstake an encyclopedic approach and list a set of implements and ingredients (on the model of the Frenchcookbook's batteric de cuisine). Finally, and also in the inductive and encyclopedic mode, there are many books that focus on a particular kind of food, such as pickles, and simply provide a set of recipes from many regions. More cautious authors assume nothing general at all, but contentthemselves with some diluted ideas and comments about Hindu festivals and customs, where again they create a relatively weak sense of the Indian by juxtaposing specialized observances. In one way or another, many of the prefaces to these collections are inductive, intuitive, and encyclopedic in their approach to what constitutes an Indian cuisine. But beneath the superficial inductivism lies a deeper set of assumptions concerning the structure of an Indian meal that seems shared by many of these authors. These assumptions can be represented as a structural model of an Indian meal and are reflected in the organization of chapters in many of the books. The structure may ideal-typically be represented in terms of the fol- lowing sets of items, usually each given a separate chapter: rice-based prepa- rations; breads (usually made of wheat flour, but also including rice and lentil- based pancakes); lentil preparations; vegetable preparations, sometimes sub- divided; sweets and savories, which laps over into the contemporary Western domain of the "snack"; pickles and chutneys; and sometimes beverages.
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