Food is a powerful tool. It is around the dinner table that many meetings take place, around the lunch table that stories are shared and around the breakfast table that plans are made. It is something that brings people from around the world together, a common desire to enjoy and savor great food. Having been born and raised in Franklin Lakes, NJ, I have always been exposed to a wide variety of culture and foods. As an Indian family, Indian food is the cuisine of choice in our household but it encompasses more than just the average rice and curry. Of course, the classics of my mother’s fish curry and rice are what I immediately think of when I think of home cooked food. This fish curry (Chapala pulusu) dates back to my family’s roots on the Godavari River of Andhra Pradesh. However other dishes such as tamarind glazed ribs, represent my family in the present as an American family that enjoys American traditions while adding our own Indian twist. Last but certainly not least is chicken biryani which represents a true Indian classic with the potential to be endlessly customized. All these dishes have molded me into the person I am today through their broad backgrounds and influences.
When I look at myself and the qualities that I possess, I can see a bit of each of these dishes in who I am. That may sound a bit far-fetched, but this food really represents me. For starters, the fish curry represents my heritage. When I go away to college for months and come back home, it is the first thing that I want to eat. It is something that provides me with a sense of familiarity and security that is rooted in hundreds of years culture and heritage. Growing up, this was always my favorite dish as the flavors felt authentic and connected me back to their origin. The curry has a tangy almost sour taste that is supported by classic Indian heat. Put together, this unique combination creates a dish that is second to none in my opinion. Whenever I come home from college, there is always warm fish curry and rice waiting for me, which is a tradition I hope never ends.
Meanwhile, the tamarind glazed ribs represent a different side of me. Growing up in America and having friends from all different cultures, I was always introduced to many different kinds of food. An American classic that I fell in love with was BBQ glazed baby-back ribs. Ribs are not a staple in the average Indian diet, in fact they are quite a rare occurrence. However, in my family those ribs became a favorite. But these are not your average ribs that you get in any restaurant, as they have an Indian twist. Tamarind is common ingredient in many Indian dishes and its addition to the ribs took them to the next level. This take on an American classic truly represents my family at its core as a group of people who proudly enjoy our Indian culture while embracing other cultures and putting them altogether in the ‘Melting Pot’ that is America. We are not afraid to venture outside of our comfort zone and gladly try new things while adding our own personal touch along the way.
Chicken biryani is a dish that has no comparison in my opinion. The dish itself is made up of rice, chicken, onions, and a multitude of spices that flow perfectly with each other. It is a relatively simple dish, but this simplicity allows for great creativity. There is no singular way to make chicken biryani, there is a difference in each and every one that you try. This dish reminds me of my dad and my cousins as we can all agree that chicken biryani is one of our favorite dishes. While I was growing up we would drive all over looking for the best biryani we could find. No distance was too far and we would not stop until we found the perfect one. To this day, we continue those journeys looking for the next best one. The time we have all shared together along the way has been priceless but more importantly it has all been tied to this dish. Lastly this dish represents a multicultural influence that can been seen as biryani is not solely an Indian dish. There are versions of it across the world. For example, last year I ate African biryani in Zanzibar. The different takes on this dish are unifying as it illustrates that no matter the different perspectives on the dish, in the end it is still same at the core.
Atlanta is a very diverse city. On any given street, you have access to several different cuisines from around the world. One ethnic community that I am familiar with is the Indian community that is actually quite close to Emory’s campus. This Indian community mirrors my family background as it has a combination of classics and new age variants. There is no shortage of classic Indian cuisine where one can find the staples in Indian diets. However, there are also up and coming new age restaurants that have modern takes on classic dishes, much like the tamarind glazed ribs. One example is Masti, a restaurant that serves “Indian Street Food”. They serve dishes such as “Masala Fries” which are a spicy new take on an American classic. This dish and many more serve to illustrate that the Indian community of Atlanta is filled with both food and people that have classic roots from which they are branching out to reach new levels. While the Indian community is the one that I am the most familiar with, I know that there are many different ethnic communities that are thriving all over the city. Perhaps one of the best representations of this is Ponce City Market (PCM). The food hall within PCM has almost every single cuisine you can think of and serves to illustrate that Atlanta has a basis for many different ethnic communities. This diversity is unparalleled and provides a unique opportunity for people to have an appetizer in one part of the world, entrée in another, and dessert in yet another. It has been a goal of mine to try something from every single restaurant in PCM and hopefully I will complete it this year.
My family and Atlanta are very similar, two groups that have a strong classic core but at the same time are not afraid to branch out and try new things.
Here are some recipes for the dishes I mentioned above:
Tamarind Glazed Ribs: https://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/nagaland-house-ribs-with-tamarind-glaze
Fish Curry (this is just one of many different recipes): https://indianhealthyrecipes.com/fish-curry-recipe/
Chicken Biryani (this is just one of many different recipes): https://dinnerthendessert.com/chicken-biryani/
Here are the links to some of the restaurants I mentioned above:
Ponce City Market: http://poncecitymarket.com/