Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Foreign Influence on Culture, Architecture and Food

Since I am still literally tied down thanks to my unfortunate accident and compelled to type with my left hand , I thought  I will put down some tips and trivia; these are basically some thoughts related to  cultural influences as a result of foreign rule. When we talk of culture, food habits cannot be far behind. The influence of the Portuguese  who ruled over  the western coast of  India is apparent all over India and more so along the western coast, in Goa, Bombay (now Mumbai), Cochin (now Kochi). It is visible in the architecture and of course the food. 
The above photos are of houses in Bandra, Bombay with architecture reminiscent of the colonial era. The photos below are of similar houses in Cochin 

As a child I remember I found it a little difficult to believe that potato which was an integral part of our diet was not of Indian origin but was introduced by the Portuguese along with sweet potato, papaya and pineapple. While in most of  India potato is called alu in Maharashtra it is called batata; right from my child hood I automatically assumed that batata is a Marathi word, Marathi is the  language spoken in Maharastra.
As I grew up it took me some time to accept the fact that batata is the Portuguese word for potato. Some people refuse to accept this fact. A friend once insisted that batata is a Marathi word and not Portuguese; although after a point she stopped arguing with me her expression said it all, she almost looked pitifully at me and appeared to be thinking ‘You have taken leave of your senses’.
Many people believe that paneer or cottage cheese was introduced by the Portuguese; they insist that in India it was considered sacrileges to spoil the milk. In fact there are a few sweet shops in the India which do not sell Bengali sweets as Bengali sweets are made from paneer.

Bengali sweet

However there are others who argue that paneer is very much of Indian origin so I guess the jury is still out on that one.
Indian food without chillies is unthinkable, the different varieties of chillies that are cultivated in the country is truly mind boggling. Once again it is thanks to the Portuguese that chillies and Indian food have almost become synonymous with each other. Personally I wish this was one crop which the Portuguese had not introduced into the country. I find eating out particularly tough, for in India irrespective of the cuisine chillies feature prominently in every dish, choosing a dish without this fiery item is quite difficult. Thankfully at home my mum has taught me to enjoy chillies without the heat and fire and I would like to pass on the tip to my readers. There is the Kashmiri chilli which imparts a lovely red colour to the dish but is not all hot or fiery it is very mild. As for green chillies, there is a wide variety of them but of these I have learnt to recognize the following two. The one which is darker, thinner and slightly shorter is the one I avoid but the other one which is a lighter shade of green, longer and thicker is the one I like it is milder and imparts a nice aroma; in fact it is not at all hot and spicy.
Here are the photos so that you can easily identify them.
Hot and spicy green chillies
Mild green chillies

Posted in Tips and Trivia.


  1. Shilpi, thank you for that tip on the chillies! I am not a fan of very hot food either, so this is going to be very helpful for me. ;-)

    By the way, on this topic, there's a very good book I'd like to recommend to you: Raymond Sokolov's Why We Eat What We Eat - it's about how the way people eat across the world changed as a result of Christopher Columbus's epic voyage to the New World. It's a fascinating book, with some amazing facts about world cuisine (for instance, pre-Columbian French cuisine was probably closest in flavour to modern-day Indian cuisine, using ginger, spices etc). And of course, potatoes, chillies and tomatoes - so intrinsic to Indian food today, but really 'new' ingredients.

    Get well soon!

  2. @dustedoff: I will definitely look for the book, now that I am well and truly into food writing it would be quite useful. Glad to know my tip was useful to you; in our kitchen you will only find Kashmiri Chilly powder and these mild green chillies.

  3. I didnt know that either about potatoes.But I believe you if u say that batata is a portugese word! And yes I second you on the chilli taste.I cannot think of cooking anything without a wee bit of red chilli powder!Those old pictures in your post are lovely!

  4. Thanks for this 'tipsy' writeup and get well soon :)

  5. Wonderful writeup...very informative.Welcome to the blogging world...First time here and ur blog is very interesting...will be a regular here from now on..

  6. Hey,

    Wonderful write up...Very interesting...:)Lovely pictures too!!:)



  7. @Tanvi:Thanks Tanvi,although I knew that batata is a Portuguese word I still checked it on the internet to confirm what I knew.

  8. @Sharmi:Thanks for the good wishes, still tied up eagerly waiting for the doctor to remove the immobilizer.

  9. @Dr Sameena: Thanks, I was glad to take part in your event, hope to take part in more such events.

  10. @Reva: Thank you very much for visiting my blog.

  11. Nice write up and congrats on being featured. Keep rocking

  12. You are correct in that Batata is originally a Portuguese word, and according to my daughter the Spanish word is Patata. I hope you will forgive my fellow brethren Marathi Manoos :)))
    Great blog you have here, I wish something like was available when I had to start cooking as a Grad. student in a US university. Indian cookbooks were either non-existent back then, or were terribly imprecise to an Engineer (a pinch of this, add a little oil, fry for some time etc.) I found Western cooking (French/Italian/American-Fusion) to be a lot simpler for someone who knew no cooking at all, because of extremely detailed cookbooks.
    One of my favorite movies is "Julie & Julia", as you probably know, it is about cooking & blogging.

  13. @samir:Thanks for visiting my blog,I do understand your predicament as a student finding your way in the kitchen, please visit again.

  14. Did you know that many species of pumpkin are also from the New World?
    Sunflower also comes from America and so does Avocado, which won't be a big surprise.
    Bell peppers also have their origin in America, they are after all chilli's sisters.
    If sweet potato is really from America is not so sure as yet. It could be from the Old world.
    Cocoa has it's origin in Mexico. It was a drink, which only noblemen and women were allowed to drink. Maize also has its origin in Mexico, but curiously enough, some deities on temples of Hampi are shown holding maize like infructescences! Totally amazing!

    1. Yes Harvey I did read somewhere that sweet potato has its origin in South America, I find all this history quite interesting. I haven't been to Hampi,but now I sure would like to.