Sunday, November 06, 2011


More specifically: appreciation vs. co-opting.

How do you know which side of the line you're on? Lately, I am completely enamored of Indian cuisine. I've stocked up on a myriad of spices, beans, and other ingredients. I'm cooking from highly-rated recipes and books (I'm all about reviews!). I love "restaurant" Indian food, and I'm also increasingly addicted to the "authentic" dishes I prepare.

But in all the books, every recipe is given it's English/American name, with the "real" name in italics and smaller print below. I feel like a giant asshole using the Anglicized terms for things, but I also feel incredibly uncomfortable with using the Indian names for everything. It smacks too much of trying too hard, and of pretending I'm part of a culture I have no claim on.

I've always thought it was weird that once a country/area is "discovered", we don't call that land what the people who live there call it. Why do we insist on "Spain" and "Germany" etc. when the natives have their own word for their homeland? It has always felt incredibly disrespectful.

The same holds true for foods. Granted, a lot of plants have traveled around the world over the past few millennia, and have many names in many cultures. But if I'm cooking the particular cuisine of a specific region, and I know what they call a certain dish, why on earth would I give that dish my own name, that basically just gives a description of the main ingredients? If I went overseas and visited an English-friendly restaurant or family, it would feel weird to have deviled eggs referred to as "hard-boiled eggs stuffed with yolks mashed with mayonnaise and mustard." And what would they call hot dogs or scrapple? But that's what we do with a lot of foods.

My current solution is to use the "popular" names for things most people are familiar with, and "proper" names for things I haven't seen elsewhere. I'm not sure what else to do, or how else to think about proceeding. I know it isn't a life-or-death issue, but it's something I have control over and I want to get it right. If anyone has any thoughts, I'm all oĆ­dos.