The Binary of National and Local Cuisine in India

I looked at the article, “How to Make a National Cuisine: Cookbooks in Contemporary India”, written by Arjun Appadurai and identified the conflicting binary of a national and local cuisine in Indian cooking. Appadurai notes the growth of a national cuisine in India that “permits the growing middle classes of Indian towns and cities to maintain a rich and context-sensitive repertoire of culinary postures, whereas in the matter of marriage, there is the stark and usually irreversible choice between staying within the ambit of caste rules or decisively, permanently, and publicly breaking them” (Appadurai 7). The transcendence of recipes across class systems has allowed the distribution of food and knowledge amongst specific groups to others, causing there to be more freedom amongst the culinary repertoire that a woman has, but also easily complicates the usage of more traditional recipes. Wives are caught in this predicament of learning new recipes and implementing old ones to please the multitude of members in their families. Appadurai asserts that “[f]ood in India is closely tied to the moral and social status of individuals and groups. Food taboos and prescriptions divide men from women, gods from humans, upper from lower castes, one sect from another” (Appadurai 10), so the appearance of a national cuisine grants more social mobility and tolerance towards class systems in India.  

Appadurai then goes on to describe the local cuisines that are present in India and their importance. Local cuisine is something that is featured in the more common of food culture in Indian history, due to its strict view on the act of eating. Local cuisine includes the entirety of all of Indian’s different religious, classist, and other demographic factors in specific foods to certain geographical locations in India. Local cuisine in cookbooks allows for its authors to indulge in sharing their own experiences and a unique outlook on food and cooking, but national cuisine pushes these specific foods and experiences into one category, which “does not mean that the humbler traditions have no cookbooks (theirs are frequently in the relevant vernacular), but they are losing in the struggle for a place in the cultural repertoire of the new national (and international) middle classes” (Appadurai 18). This causes complications for the writing and proliferation of Indian cookbooks, as it negates or does not feature a crucial aspect of Indian food culture, which are the oral accounts that has been passed from mother to daughters, aunt to niece, and most women who reside India or who are of Indian descent. 

This tension between these two different cuisines is also relevant as it connects to postcolonialism, as the newer stride towards a national cuisine appeals to a westernized audience as it encompasses the whole country of India in a single entity and therefore eliminates so much history present in the country by becoming more manageable for its foreign readers of Indian cookbooks. Appadurai speaks of this point at the end of his article, but to expand on his thoughts, by ignoring the rich culture of differences in India and apply that to cookbook, reinforces a colonialist narrative as the cookbook author is changing aspects of themselves and their culture to suit Western readers. 

Appadurai, Arjun. “How to Make a National Cuisine: Cookbooks in Contemporary India.” Comparative Studies in Society and History, vol. 30, no. 1, Cambridge University Press, 1988, pp. 3–24, doi:10.1017/S0010417500015024.