Shri.Rakesh Raghunathan is a full time food
traveller & show host, Dakshin Diaries. He has travelled to Singapore, Malaysia, Dubai, and London to
showcase the link between history, mythology, food and music. His travel
enables him to discover that every place has people who are custodians of great
recipes! “We have to document our grandmother’s recipes because we have always
taken them for granted. We can never recreate their intricate recipes but can
atleast try to bring their flavor of taste!”.
As a distinguished panelist for AHARA,
Center for Soft Power had an interesting
interview with him.
1. WHAT DO YOU LOVE TO COOK ?
Whenever I am in town I love cooking a
full course traditional South Indian food that can be served on a banana leaf!
I grind and mix aromatic spices on Ammikal ( a roller stone) and not in
an electric food blender.
2. YOU HAVE BEEN MAKING EFFORTS IN BREAKING THE STEREOTYPE THINKING THAT SOUTH INDIAN FOOD MEANS IDLI, VADAI, DOSAI, SAMBHAR, &FILTER COFFEE. WHEN DID THIS IDEA COME TO YOU?
Yes , South Indian food definitely is categorized thus, if you ask a person who knows a little more,he will also include Chettinad food. Actually there is so much more! When I document food for my shows I realize that in Tamil Nadu itself every district has its own unique indigenous food ingredient because of the seasonal produce that are grown. These are incorporated in their cooking.For example, if you go to the place Virudunagar you will find lot of peanuts, which you will not find anywhere else. When you move toward the hilly areas like the Nilgiris you will see usage of millets.
Not only with respect to food, but
also with respect to Temple prasadams (offerings), handicrafts,
culture,there are amazing diversities. Our grandmothers had even special
vessels (lead pots ) to make Rasam, I doubt whether people know how to
use those special vessels now. I am
afraid they would melt away the vessel!
Across India when people conceived the
menu in the good old times, there was a science behind it . For example if there was Vathakuzhambu ( made out of
tamarind extract) there was Parupusli ( soaked , ground and steamed
pulses added to vegetables) to supplement the protein.
A Milagukuzhambu ( made out of
pepper and herbs) had Parupu
thogaiyal (like humus chutney) to go
with it !
3. AHARA IS ABOUT HEALTH AND WELLNESS THROUGH FOOD. DO YOU THINK EVENTS SUCH AS THESE CAN CREATE AWARENESS AND LEAD TO BETTER FOOD AND LIFESTYLE CHOICES?
Absolutely! If you look at the trends
today, restaurants are opening up with traditional and seasonal recipes. The
younger generation wants to go back to the roots and enjoy food in the most conventional way. AHARA in one such
event which will bring awareness to the people about the benefits of food and
its many facets.
4. HOW DO YOU PERSONALLY MONITOR YOUR OWN DIET AND EXERCISE REGIMEN IN THE MIDST OF YOUR HECTIC TRAVEL SCHEDULE?
To be honest, it is tough. Every time
I go out to document and research on food, there is a lot of physical work
involved like walking, climbing mountains, talking to tribals,that takes care
of a part of my exercise. Having said that, when I get time, I do Surya
Namaskar and other work outs. Sometimes I loose a few kilos, sometimes gain a
few especially when people offer me tasty sweets out of affection.Lot of travel
and long strenuous shoots helps me maintain a balance.
5. INDIA HAS THE LARGEST OF VEGETERIANS IN THE WORLD. HOW DOES A SHOW LIKE PULIOGARE TRAVELS HELP A DESIRE TO GO VEGETARIAN. HAVE PEOPLE SPOKEN TO YOU ABOUT IT?
basically started of as a blog, more to document food, nostalgia, memories, recipes,
culinary traditions, practices etc. It is a venture which traces and explores
traditional Indian foods made in kitchens and temples across South India.Except
for one or two posts that had references to meat it is largely vegetarian. I
have nothing against meat, I like a holistic portrayal of food. It’s more about
my personal choice that Puliogare Travels has been vegetarian and
people have been inspired by this for sure!
6. WHEN PEOPLE TALK ABOUT INDIAN CUISINE IT IS USUALLY ABOUT SOME STANDARD DISHES. WHY IS THERE NOT A GREATER DIFFERENTIATION OF THE LARGE DIVERSITY THAT INDIA HAS TO OFFER?
getting there.Even when you go to a restaurant abroad, they typecast South
Indian food as Idli,Vadai,Dosai, and North Indian food
as Saag paneer, Butter
Chicken,Dhal fry etc. Now there are chefs who are pushing boundaries, working
with farmers on the seasonal produce to recreate dishes that meant so much to
them in their childhood. Every chef has experienced good food when growing up
either from their parents, grandparents, aunt, uncles or any close relatives.
This would have influenced their taste and aspired them to recreate the
nostalgia through the dish they make. Indian food is being presented today to a
more aware and learned audience abroad, and we are expanding our cuisine to
showcase more varieties beyond Saag paneer, Idli and Dosai.
7. IN A MODERN CONTEXT, WHERE INDIAN DIETICIANS THEMSELVES ARE PROMOTING OLIVE OIL AND OTHER WESTERN INGREDIENTS HOW DOES ONE GO BACK TO LOCAL PRODUCE AND FOODS?
direction is slowly shifting. We are going back to using coconut oil, groundnut
oil, sesame oil, and ghee, for genuine, lingering taste! In my workshops,
sometimes people ask me whether they can cook and sauté in olive oil. I
question them “ Did your grandmother use olive oil for traditional recipes,
then why would you want to introduce something new into your body which it is
not used to ?”. There are enough health benefits in these oils.Its unfortunate
that we require endorsement for coconut oil from abroad, to believe its
actually such an integral part of our ancestors lifestyle.
a Italian or French food, salad dressing, then olive oil is definitely
8.COULD YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT THE VARIOUS SHOWS THAT YOU DO ABROAD AND THE RESPONSE RECEIVED?
travelled to Malaysia,Dubai, London, Singapore for my shows which are generally
based on certain themes.Using caricatures,music, photography, we draw parallels
and perspectives on food, the history and culture. My presentations on “Sacred offerings” has become extremely
popular where I try to appeal to all the five senses through music, food, and
mythological stories. So the audience can hear, see, smell, taste and touch!
9. IT WAS BIG NEWS WHEN UBIQUITOUS UPMA WON THE FIRST PRIZE IN A NEW YORK COMPETITION. WHAT ARE THE POPULAR DISHES WITH FOREIGNERS?
Great to know that the Mumbai-born Floyd Cardoz
had whipped up an Upma and won $100, 000 in the Top Chef Contest in LA,
2011. Aarthi Sampath also won the popular American reality show,Chopped, by
making the most innovative bread Upma you’ve ever heard of in 2017. Its
so remarkable that such a humble breakfast staple of South India has made
international culinary headlines!
Popular dishes among
foreigners are :-
10. CAN YOU NAME TOP FIVE NUTRITIOUS FOOD FROM SOUTH INDIAN CUISINE THAT EVERYONE MUST KNOW ABOUT.
South Indian diet is
very healthy indeed . I would choose the following :-
- KANCHIPURAM IDLI
- KUZH in any form
- PIDI KOZHAKKATTAI MADE WITH MILLETS
11. FINALLY , HOW CAN YOU DESCRIBE DAKSHIN DAIRIES AS A SOFT POWER ?
Food is an
icebreaker. It connects people and communities.When people cook and eat
together irrespective of languages,
customs, culture and places, it brings them closer and melts boundaries. Its a
unique team building exercise too.
Isn’t is rightly said
that ‘The way to a person’s heart is through the stomach!”