The Portrait of a Foodie
The word ‘foodie’ originated in the 1980’s and was popularized by Ann Barr and Paul Levy’s book, The Official Foodie Handbook. A foodie, or gourmet, is a connoisseur of food and drink, starkly different from a ‘food lover’. While food lovers enjoy experimenting with food occasionally, foodies devote themselves to the art of good eating. They acknowledge and appreciate traditional gastronomy and are passionate about diversifying their palate.
Food culture has never been more prevalent. It’s also never been more controversial. It is perfectly normal to modify foreign cuisines to better suit the palate of the local diet, a very common example is how pasta and pizza have been indianized by adding masalas. However, “authentic” or “exotic” cuisines have always had a racial undertone in the west. Food prepared by immigrants was seen as inferior, their food habits barbaric. The problem is not when we alter food, it’s when we believe our version is superior to the original. This attitude is ignorant of the relevance of food in cultures.
The advent of globalization created access to a vast array of cultures and regional cuisines. Exploring food habits and practices is key to unlocking the intricacies of social structure. Geography, history, class, and religion directly influence one’s food patterns. What one eats is indicative of one’s location in society. For example, ‘Dalit food’ emerged in India because of caste based discrimination that controlled physical and economical access to food. It comprises of inferior varieties of wheat and rice and meat that was rejected by the upper castes.
As a result of the complex relationship between food, society and culture, a foodie not only enjoys trying out different cuisines, but also understands the diversity and nuances of local culture. Fun fact, in Japan, food that can kill you is still part of the Japanese tradition. Fugu (puffer) fish is more toxic than cyanide, the slightest error in its preparation could prove catastrophic. However, they still consume it in large quantities. Fugu, or fuku as it is called in some regions, means fortune. The fish may therefore be lethal, yet it is delectable and is believed to bring good luck.
Trying street food is the most economical and quickest way to get a glimpse of local food culture. However, feeling adventurous and trying every version of street food out there does not make one a foodie. For one, it is but a small part of local cuisine. These days, experimenting in street food only seems to move in one direction- the cheesier, creamier and chocolaty the better. Experimentation in food is welcome, but it has its limits. The line was crossed when chocolate momos were created.
David Humm’s journey is the quintessence of experimentation in food. He turned Eleven Madison Park from a shrine of omnivorous epicureanism to a vegetarian restaurant. He was roasted by critics for this decision. However, the restaurant retained its three Michelin star status even after this drastic change. The pandemic forced him to think about issues attached to the food industry such as carbon emissions, food insecurity and flawed supply chains. The perilous nature of the situation gave him the courage to switch to a plant-based menu. He took inspiration from the diets of Buddhist monks and spent an entire year working on R&D for this unprecedented idea. He fashioned a meatless menu now regarded as the epitome of fine dining.
Other than having cultural knowledge of food, learning about the science of cooking is of the essence. A foodie should understand how a symphony of ingredients work together behind the scenes to create that dish. Knowing how a particular food item was prepared and why it was prepared that way is vital to comprehend food culture. For example, the secret to a good dal makhani lies in its cooking. It is a slow and lengthy process which ensures proper gelatinization of the starch. No amount of butter and cream can make up for a flawed cooking process.
The list of characteristics of a foodie is rigorous and controversial. A genuine love for food is only the starting point of the gastronomy journey, albeit an important one. Given the rich history of food culture and its thrilling potential in the future, venturing into the world of culinary art is a worthy pursuit.
- Vaishnavi Ganpule