Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 9 December 2019

'Indian food is terrible': the viral tweet that sparked a global debate

How an American professor's response to an already viral tweet built up a storm

Indian food is as diverse as the cuisines that stretch across most continents, as proven by the steak curry at Tresind Studio in Dubai, which features five different curry sauces
Indian food is as diverse as the cuisines that stretch across most continents, as proven by the steak curry at Tresind Studio in Dubai, which features five different curry sauces

When Miami student Jon Becker sent out a post on Twitter asking for people’s most controversial food opinions, he was inundated with responses ranging from the finicky and funny to utterly unique.

One foodie said he eats his French fries dipped in ice cream, another admitted boxed mac and cheese is better than home-made, while a third likened pickle juice to nectar.

To condemn an entire region’s largely unrelated styles of cuisine that draw on influence from immigrants, traders and colonisers over thousands of years, in one sentence, is quite a feat

Oneal Banerjee

Most responses centred on a particular dish, ingredient or food brand, and had a humorous spin. However, one tweet went viral for its controversial-bordering-on-offensive take. “Indian food is terrible,” tweeted Rhode Island professor Tom Nichols, "and we pretend it isn’t".

The tweet miffed several foodies, with some threatening to unfollow Nichols (shudder), and many others accusing him of ignorance and narrow-mindedness. Given the Twitterverse’s penchant for word play, the phrases "naan-starters" and unseasoned palate made an appearance, while many accused Nichols of leading a bland life and possessing rudimentary taste buds.

Users also took issue with the use of the word “we” – sparking mini debates about racism, colonisation and the cowardly act of putting words in someone else’s mouth.

Let us not forget, though, the original tweet called for controversial food opinions, and Nichols is certainly allowed his, as are the other responders who said they could live without cupcakes, boneless wings, poutine, watermelon-flavoured food and walnuts.

If there is one thing Nichols can be accused of, it’s gross generalisation. The sheer range of dishes and flavours that can qualify as Indian food render his statement moot. Unsurprisingly, the “noted curmudgeon” (as he calls himself), also says he does not like Ethiopian and Cajun “anything”.

Replying to his many shocked and offended followers, Nichols says Indian cuisine – which he has tried in Boston, New York, London and Rhode Island – “closes up all of my breathing apparatus”. Surprising, really, given that certain Indian ingredients and powder spices – from ginger and basil to turmeric – are specifically administered to open up the nasal cavity and any other breathing apparatus one might possess.

Nichols further says that one reason he steers clear of the cuisine is because it “remains a mystery to me”. Reveal thy secrets naan-bread-roti, whoever you are.

The spice factor obviously comes up, but instead of backing up his claim by professing he simply prefers bland food, Nichols goes one further and says: “Indian is the cuisine they’ll be serving on the way down [to hell]”.

That’s it, no dahi kabab and dosa for him.

Taste aside, Nichols also takes olfactory issue, saying he “can’t really deal with the ambient smells in an Indian restaurant”. The aroma of browning buttery onion, butter-sauteed garlic and masala chai (yum) are not for everyone, I suppose.

The handful of examples mentioned above are but the tip of the iceberg that is Indian food, which includes dishes that range from aloo gobi, amti and avial to biryani, bombil, dal, paneer, samosa, shukto, upma, vindaloo … I could go on until even Nichols polishes his plate. It’s the remorseless lumping together of the cuisine that is the real issue here, then.

As Oneal Banerjee puts it in a tweet: “to condemn an entire region’s largely unrelated styles of cuisine that draw on influence from immigrants, traders and colonisers over thousands of years, in one sentence, is quite a feat”.

Updated: November 25, 2019 04:24 PM

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