Brin­jal, Glo­ri­ous Brin­jal!

Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - Brunch - - INDULGE -

AROUND THREE evenings a week – and of­ten more – we make a bain­gan bharta for din­ner in my home. It is not that dif­fi­cult a dish to mas­ter, bain­gan is rel­a­tively easy to find in the mar­ket, and it may well be my favourite (or at least one of them) of all mar­ket sub­zis. When for­eign guests try the bharta, they usu­ally love it. Not only is it rel­a­tively mild in its spic­ing – you can ac­tu­ally taste the flavour of the orig­i­nal vegetable, which is not al­ways true of other In­dian-style sabzis – but it is also a flavour that many for­eign­ers recog­nise im­me­di­ately. Their ref­er­ence point, though, is not some res­tau­rant ver­sion of the dish – bain­gan bharta is not a pop­u­lar dish at most In­dian restau­rants abroad – but the bain­gan dishes of Mid­dle Eastern cui­sine. (Pedants may want me to point out that the bain­gan is a berry, in sci­en­tific terms, and not, tech­ni­cally speak­ing, a vegetable. But as this col­umn is called Rude Food and not Point­less Pedantry, we shall ig­nore them!)

Some­times guests will tell me that it re­minds them of the Turk­ish Imam Bay­ildi. This bain­gan dish is prob­a­bly more fa­mous than it de­serves be­cause of its un­usual name which trans­lates loosely as “the Imam fainted.” There are many sto­ries about how the name orig­i­nated. One ver­sion has it that an Imam swooned with joy be­cause the dish was so won­der­ful. An­other has it that one day, when his wife ran out of olive oil, she could not make it. On hear­ing that the dish would not be served, the Imam was so an­gry that he fainted. A third, more cyn­i­cal ver­sion, is that the poor man fainted when he heard how much olive oil was used in the prepa­ra­tion of the dish.

Per­son­ally, I have never found more than a very ten­u­ous par­al­lel be­tween our bain­gan bharta and Imam Bay­ildi. But I do see the point. The food of the Mid­dle East, and the Mediter­ranean re­gion as a whole, uses lots of bain­gan. Me­lan­zane Parmi­giana, one of the world’s most fa­mous Ital­ian dishes, for in­stance, is based on bain­gan.

Over the years, bit­ter ex­pe­ri­ence has made me cau­tious about claim­ing any­thing as our own. Many of the veg­eta­bles, pulses, and flavours that we con­sider cen­tral to In­dian cui­sine turn out to have come from the Amer­i­cas and were in­tro­duced to In­dia by Euro­pean colo­nial­ists: chilli, potato, ra­jma, etc.

So it is with dishes. They are not al­ways of in­dige­nous ori­gin. Our pu­lao comes from the Turk­ish pi­laf, the samosa is a vari­a­tion of the Mid­dle Eastern sam­busak. The jalebi came to In­dia from West Asia. Tea was planted in Dar­jeel­ing by the Bri­tish who brought the plants from China. Cof­fee came from the Arabs. And so on.

So I have never made any great claims about bain­gan. And West­ern au­thors have told us that even the word bain­gan comes from the Per­sian bad­in­jan. The other ‘English’ name we use for the vegetable, brin­jal, is said to come from the Por­tuguese berin­jela.

And in­deed, fancy peo­ple in the West don’t use any of th­ese names. In Amer­ica, they call it an egg­plant. In Eng­land, they call it an aubergine. The Ital­ians call it melan­zana (which is why their fa­mous dish is called Me­lan­zane Parmi­giana.)

No doubt, I thought, it would turn out that the Turks or the Euro­peans sent us bain­gan. Or per­haps it came to In­dia with Euro­pean im­pe­ri­al­ists.

We gave the vegetable to the rest of the world. The Turks, the Ital­ians and ev­ery­body else, took it from us

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.