This was an article I wrote eons ago for Chillibreeze. I had even forgotten that I had written this article till I came across it today.
Food forms an important part of any culture. The Indian culture prides itself on its various cuisines and flavors. Exporting these varieties to Australia, a young land where people love their food fast and mild, it provides an interesting view to what role food plays in culture.
I was invited to a dinner party my second week in Australia. And the note said it was a ‘Bring a Plate’. The ‘Australian slang book’ gives us the explanation of these phrases. Perhaps because it starts with ‘b’ or it relates to food, they are important words you should be wary of. BYO – ‘Bring your own’ could refer to drinks, food or dessert. And ‘Bring your plate’… your hosts will definitely give you the plates, mostly paper plates… saving hours of cleaning and washing. But you carry a dish for the others to eat. But nowhere did it specify that you should cook this delicacy. I got take-away from the nearest Indian restaurant, hoping it would make up for my ineptitude in the kitchen. It was a choice between that or the instant masalas available for exorbitant prices. As I drove to the party I wondered how people would react in India if I invited them to a party and said ‘oh could you also bring something to eat?’
India prides itself on its motto ‘Athithi Devobhava’ meaning ‘The guest is a God’. As a host, you ensure that your guest’s every wish, whim and need is fulfilled. We are known for our hospitality across the world. I do not remember a single occasion when my grandmother ever asked the guest to bring anything to a party. They had to bring themselves and the more they ate AND the more they drank, the hosts were happier. My mother, though, carried a bottle of wine or a basket of fruits as a gift to her host. But when she threw a party, she cooked for every man, woman and child invited, irrespective of the number.
But I rather liked the ‘bring a plate’ concept. It saved me from hours of shopping and cooking. It helped add variety. And it also stopped the hosts from stressing out over their guest’s food habits. Nobody had to sacrifice their diet, religious beliefs or other quirks. And people constantly discovered new flavors. But it had been ingrained into me that it was shameful to ask your guest to aid you in treating them right.
I wondered between the concepts of an ‘easy culture’ that allowed me to socialize and maintain my friendships and relationships and the concept of a ‘traditional culture’ I had grown up in, which stressed on the importance of being a good host and serving the right food, making the guest feel valued and welcomed and treasured. But would asking your guest to bring a dish make them feel unwelcome? It is food. We need to experiment, diversify and discover new flavors.
The parties in Australia were as warm and as beautiful as the ones I attended in India. The food I got from the restaurant were rather appreciated, even as some people teared up over the spices. Perhaps we need to try something new, a mix of cultures that would heighten the cultural difference between India and another country, and blend our food, creating a new culture of food.