Food Prints of Partition

Photo by Yash Bhardwaj on Unsplash
Written by Kirtana

Each evening the skewers being polished for the delectable display of Tandoori is often a sight to reminisce in Delhi. If you go back all but a century tandoori was not the culinary identity of our capital. As legend has it tandoor style cooking entered the region with its North-West frontier province refugees from where it went on to form an identity of being a Pan Indian food. From Pind Chole to the tandoori chicken much of what Delhi loves to boast about as its speciality came from the other side of the border. 

The Pind Chole are originally a dish from Rawalpindi with its iconic dark brown masala full of black pepper. Post partition as it traveled east the dish gained gravy and thus became what is called as the Amritsari Chole. The use of clay ovens are not new to the northern region of India. The central Asian oven technique to make breads have been there in Punjab for long. When the refugees traveled to this region they found just another use for it in the form of a tandoor. Soon this started to replace the older cuisines of the region like the previously relished Mughlai kebabs cooked on the horizontal sigri. One of the main reasons for this fast vanishing popularity of older Mughlai cousin to the Tandoor style cooking was the time taken to prepare the later. People now wanted flavorful but fast made food. Moti-Mahal is recorded to be the one of the oldest Tandoori style restaurant set up by a refugee, Kundan Lal Gujral, with butter chicken being one of their most iconic dishes and claimed to be a novel innovation of the owner. 

Bengal has been an important food center with its rivers being an inexhaustible source of fish making it one of the staple for the region. The point of divergence in the Bengali food culture is between the regions of East and West Bengal. Kolkata became a business center and therefore a multicultural hub right from the times of the Nawabs to the Britishers. It was only natural that its food culture became infused with others. Dhaka however being disconnected was able to maintain a more traditional food culture hence the century long debate of East Bengali food being more refined than the West. Since the partition the East Bengalis have struggled hard to maintain an independent identity, though not much successful amongst non-Bengalis, a Bengali will never miss the opportunity to highlight the difference to you. 

In Mumbai, Prawns and Pomfret Koliwada soon gained quite the popularity which started out as an experiment by Sikh refugees in a camp in the Koliwada area using their cooking technique for freshwater fish on the local seafood. Karachi sweetshops and the ever famous Karachi bakery chain was founded by Sindhi migrant Khanchand Ramnani. The region of Karachi is famous for its snacking culture and these sweetshops and bakeries across the country selling their rich Karachi halwa and biscuits brought it to the entire subcontinent. 

Partition did not just shape the food culture but also the way it was eaten. Before the tandoor culture people rarely ate anything other than just their own home cooked food that too within their four walls. With the Punjabi refugee colonies of Delhi like Rajender Nagar, Tilak Nagar and many more came the idea of communal eating. With a common tandoor oven people sat together baking their meals in the oven and eating together. 

Food which crept into people’s heart despite the magnanimously violent ways they came to the subcontinent make us realize that there is hope and to appreciate the beauty of acceptance. The experience of food will always mean and be different for different people. But it is that one thing which has the ability to bring people together. Amidst all this there is also a hidden realization that how memories, tastes, and cultures can exist beyond boundaries. 

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