When we asked Amrita to participate in Smaack, she was immediately excited to tell us all about the diversity of Indian cuisine. Since her daughter, Ankita, and sister-in-law, Anindita, are also very good cooks, she invited them to the interview. We spoke to them via a video call, since all three of them were not in the Netherlands. They come from West Bengal, a state in the eastern region of India. Amrita still lives there, but Ankita and Anindita currently live in Washington DC temporarily. Ankita is working on her research there and Anindita has moved there for her husband’s work.
When we asked them what they love most in India, Anindita imagined herself in India for a moment. She tells us that she is away from India for the first time in her life. “I have to say that I really miss India. It is an extremely vibrant country with all kinds of weather, colors and art. It’s very diverse. Every state has a different culture, a different cuisine and even a different language. I grew up experiencing those differences.”
“is an extremely vibrant country with all kinds of weather, colors and art”
We wondered if, despite this diversity, they still feel connected with other Indians. Amrita explains they do: “It is actually uniting. Nowadays a lot of people marry people from other states. My husband is from the North, for example. Besides, people travel a lot between the different cities. However, I have to say that it used to be quite regionalized, but now I see more and more intermingling of religions and cuisines. Above all, the norms and values are the same in almost every indian family.”
Ankita added that she always tries to look for the same degree of diversity everywhere she goes. She has been to several countries for her work, but nowhere did she find as much diversity as in India. “In other countries, the workplace often consists of people with the same background. Something I'm not used to.”
This diversity is also reflected in the Indian food culture. Every region has its own type of cuisine. North Indian cuisine mainly consists of chicken, curries and naan breads. This is Indian cuisine as other countries know it best. The cuisine in the west is similar. In the South, they use a lot of spices, fish and coconuts. And in Eastern regions, where Amrita, Ankita and Anindita come from, they also eat a lot of fish. Since West Bengal is very close to Bangladesh, the Bengali cuisine is similar to the cuisine in Bangladesh
When we asked them more specifically about the food culture in West Bengal, they enthusiastically told us that in West Bengal everything is about food. Ankita explains: “Everything revolves around the dining table. When we wake up, we already know what we are going to eat tonight.” Anindita adds: “Before we eat one meal, we start talking about the next one.” Amrita continues: “And we never eat fast food. We always eat three proper meals.” “And there are snacks!”, Ankita adds. They estimate that they spend at least three to four hours a day at the dining table. Breakfast can consist of just one course. But lunch and dinner always consist of at least three courses.
“When we wake up, we already know what we are going to eat tonight.”
Lastly, we asked them what their favorite Indian dish is. But all three were unable to answer this question. Amrita sighed, thinking about all the good Indian food: “There are so many, I can’t choose!” Ankita also found this question impossible to answer. “Actually, I cannot have a favorite dish. Since my parents are from different Indian regions it would feel like I’m choosing between two cultures.”