Fiona Fernandez: Aromas of heritage
Taking a cue from Singapore, Mumbai’s diverse, rich local food heritage needs to be identified and celebrated to protect its longevity in a rapidly changing urban landscape
We’ll be doing a bit of travel today. Unlike some of our friends and colleagues who are travelling for the “holidays” (pray, when did it translate into a desi term?), ours will be of the armchair variety.
The island nation of Singapore piqued our imagination recently, when we stumbled upon some interesting news from its culinary landscape. Years ago, while on a visit, its riotous F&B culture sucked us in like a sponge — from Cantonese and Hakka to Malay, Vietnamese, fresh seafood, and a very uniquely Singaporean take on Indian food.
Turns out, for three successive years now, a non-profit organization called Slow Food, Singapore has been selecting 50 heritage heroes — this is an honour bestowed on local restaurants that pay tribute to Singapore’s culinary heritage. The idea, according to the story published in a leading English language daily was to ‘preserve heritage dishes and ingredients, celebrate food culture and traditions, protect its diversity and champion responsible consumption.’ A novel idea, this.
On the Singapore list, we spotted a lip-smacking line-up of over 80 dishes curated from its stalls and hawkers, to its swish restaurants and bakeries. As we did a virtual flashback of the trip-hop across its food courts, street and heady restaurant fare, one had to hand it to the Singaporeans, for being terrific ambassadors when it came to showcasing their food, and going through great pains to ensure the ‘heritage’ tag was justified. This, despite being one of the youngest nations in Asia — it was founded in 1819. Every street in is older precincts had signage to explain a little nugget of history connected to its food — depending on its original inhabitants. As tourists we lapped it up; it certainly added another level to our understanding of the country.
Checking out this list, the heritage buff that we are, we immediately put pen to paper, and imagined a Mumbai equivalent. For starters, we would have ten times over the number of foodie heritage heroes, wouldn’t we? We couldn’t help but wonder why such a movement hadn’t taken shape in Mumbai. Slow food and heritage go hand in hand. And in a culinary-rich cosmopolitan city like ours, such a trend seems long overdue. With an increasing number of woes ranging from high rents to redevelopment, old-time standalone restaurants, especially the family-run kinds, are on the cusp of unknown futures. Such recognition would be a shot in the arm, and help increase their awareness, enable funding, perhaps (yes, we are being optimistic here), sustain and insure their longevity.
If Singapore’s culinary diversity, which is not a patch of Mumbai’s can roll out such honours to keep its local heritage safe, why cannot Mumbai’s food-loving junta and gurus work out a similar model? This would be a great step, we believe, to salvage our unique food heritage, so unlike the fate met by countless examples of our tangible heritage, it doesn’t get phased out.
We’re inspired to quote city-born Rudyard Kipling’s words here: “It is at Bombay that the smell of all Asia boards the ship miles off shore, and holds the passenger's nose till he is clear of Asia again.”
We’d like to believe our culinary landscape had something to do with it.
mid-day’s Features Editor Fiona Fernandez relishes the city’s sights, sounds, smells and stones... wherever the ink and the inclination takes her. She tweets @bombayana. Send your feedback to email@example.com
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