of Food:A Case Study of Traditional Diet Of Upper-Catste Hindus
Abstract: To accompany
‘Aesthetics of Food’ Figures 1 (lower) & 2 (upper)
Figure 1: A ‘Place ‘ set
for a proper meal in Maharashtra, India
As noted in the text the plantain leaf may be replaced by a
shallow metal dish or a plate made of leaves tacked to one another.
The seat shown here is a wooden one.
Note the floor decoration framing the leaf and incense sticks.
Figure 2: A schematic platter for a proper meal in Maharastra, India
When compared with Figure 1 this diagram will need to be slightly
adjusted if the round dish or leaf-plate is replaced by the plantain
leaf. The basic division into four quarters or quadrants
remains-namely, For leaf for Condiments, Far right for Staple Condiments, near right for Rice Staples, and
near left for Rice treats.
Aesthetic of Food Conceptual
“aesthetics” originally referred to the study of the five and more
sense receptors, while anesthesia referred to their deactivation. The discussion of arts tends to borrow from
the gustatory sense: One speaks of sweet music, tasteful decoration
and, in Sanskrit poetics of the rasa or “taste” of a play or
a poem. Despite this fact, however, current discussion
of aesthetics and enumerations of the fine arts still frequently confined
to the distal receptors of sight and sound to the exclusion of the
proximal receptors of taste, smell, touch and others. The proximal receptors of kinaesthetics involved in dance seem to
fare somewhat better.
on of those who hold that a consideration of aesthetic experience
cannot be complete without a consideration of aesthetic experience
outside the ambit of the arts. This
implies that, while one could understand the reasons behind the neglect
of the proximate receptors (They have not given rise to any fine art
and the crafts they have given rise **** are typically the domain
of the non-dominant female sex and so of a lower status). One cannot justify this neglect. The pleasures of these senses should not be
dismissed as mere sensuous pleasures without aesthetic dimension or
content. I am therefore especially happy about this
opportunity Colloquium on Food systems communicate on systems Central
Institute of Indian Languages Mysore India, 2-5 January 1985. to take
up the issue of the aesthetics of food.
reminded Satan (Matthew 4: 4) quoting Deuteronomy (8:3) that ‘Man
shall not live by bread alone.’ A
wag has commented on this saying. ‘Yes indeed.
Man needs jam tool. This
is as good a point of departure as any for bringing aesthetics into
the domain of nutrition. To make food tasty is to ensure that the person
would eat enough of it, if not more.
The aesthetic value of food is a kind of surplus in relation
to the primary nutritional value of food: it calls for the judgement
of Aesthetic Quality (AQ). At
the minimum the person likes the food or dislikes it.
This liking or disliking depends on two things –the input;
namely, the Aesthetic Object (AQ), which is accessible to sense perception
or to mental perception (‘I see a trap there,’ ‘I smell a rat’ are
examples in of perception in both the literal and metaphorical senses),
and the processing of this input effected by the person’s Aesthetic
Sensibility (AS), which subjects
the input to a certain exploration (One savours, the food or, if one
goes by the Sanskrit critical term carvanā, ‘chewing’,
one even savours the poem). The
sensibility will vary with the individual, the personality type, the
group and the historical period. The exploration may be immature or
mature, spontaneous or considered.
(Some foods may be an acquired taste.)
To sum up, AQ=f (AQ,AS), aesthetic quality is a function jointly
of the aesthetic object and the aesthetic sensibility
in question. By saying
so, we have answered the question: “Does beauty lie in the object
or in the beholder?” In both.” What
is ‘f’ in this formula? The
function involves the mode of ascription of the aesthetic quality.
If the aesthetic object happens to be not a natural object,
but a work of a craft or art, this mode of ascription brings in the
question of style and technique.
concern is of course with food (including drink) as an aesthetic object. More specifically, one has to discriminate
between food token and food type (‘I normally like ravioli, you know,
but what’s been served here is somehow not quite up to the mark’),
between food element and food complex (ingredient, dish, course, meal,
diet in an ascending hierarchy), and between a combination of meals
(the diet) and repertory of competing meals (the cuisine).
The food may be a natural product (milk, ripe fruit, raw oyster)
or the product of the culinary craft.
Food as an aesthetic object is accessible chiefly craft.
Food as an aesthetic object is accessible chiefly to the proximal
senses of taste and smell, both of which involve chemical discrimination
and often combine into perceptions of flavour (rasa and
gandha combine into sāvda).
Since food is ingested, the proximal tactile senses of pressure,
temperature and chemical irritation are also very much in the picture.
Marginally, food is also subjected to discriminations of sight
and of sound. As we shall
see later, food is also open to mental perceptions (like ‘y another
made it,’ for example) in the aesthetic context.
So the first step towards an aesthetics of food will be a review
of the raw perceptual input of aesthetic discriminations in food:
Taste: The physiology of taste
suggests a four-way discrimination sweet, acid salty, bitter (each
associated with certain chemical types). Also one could detect an
ingredient in a dish in a heavy, moderate, light or trace proportion.
Smells: The physiology is
not wholly clear on this point: a number of classes of smells are
recognized; aromatic, musky, roaen, and so forth (again each associated
with certain chemical types).
Touch (or Feel): In respect of food the following discriminations
appear to be relevant: rough/ smooth; capable of being drunk, sipped,
licked. Chewed, crushed or
gulped; dry/wet; dry/unctuous; cruchy/pasty/ mushy/ liquid; hot/warm
/lukewarm/cool/cold/chill (45-50o, 40-50om 30-40om 25-30o, 15-25o,
5-15o—in comparison with the body temperature of 37o C.
(the corresponding scale for the atmosphere being somewhat
different); burning/ pungent/ astringent/ tingling / bland.
Sight: In respect of food the following discriminations in respect
of colours, shapes, and sizes appear to be more relevant warm/cool
in colour (purple-red-orange-yellow, green-blue-purple), light/dark;
bright/dull; regular/irregular in shape; bulky/mouthful/particle.
Sounds: In respect of food, sound is associated with tactile feels
inside the mouth-flzzy, crunchy, cracking or the like; the noise of
sucking in liquids or smacking or licking is also involved.
foods and drinks may make you feel drowsy, simultaneous intoxicated
or the like-more intimate proximate responses.
Our second step will be to indicate ways in which aesthetic
sensibility and exploration in respect of food could be defined. The individuality of taste is widely recognized—Mediaveal Latin
de gustibus et coloribus nonest disputandum, Sanskrit bhinnarucirhi
(Kalidasa. Raghuvaṁša 6: 30), Age, sex, temperament
(gourmet, food lover, lacking in food
sensibility), state of health (loss of appetite, keen appetite)
or the like define consumer types.
Commensal groups are often stereotyped at particular times. (Thus, the French are supposed to be love of frog’s legs, pre-War
Germans were supposed to be
content with sumptuous quantity, little variety, and strong flavours,
Andhras are supposed to be capsicum lovers) Aesthetic exploration
of food is associated with either a slow, leisurely meal or a quick
tidbit. Extremes of perceptual qualities or excessive continuous consumption
are expected to a pall and to blunt the taste. One can also raise the question as to how far
food and drink preferences correlate with preferences in clothing
and housing, the other two necessities of life.
If there is a high correlation, can one speak of certain food
preferences being associable with certain life styles Of course this involves the larger question
of relating the aesthetics of the proximal receptors with the aesthetics
of the distal receptors of sight and sound, and of relating the aesthetics
of sense perceptions to the aesthetic of mental perceptions.
Third step takes us to judgements of aesthetic quality. Given the complexities at the two levels of the aesthetic object
and the aesthetic sensibility, it is no wonder that considerations
of aesthetic quality rapidly move beyond a simple distinction between
liking and disliking. One
can like one thing more than another or dislike one thing more than
another. Indeed possible discriminations in aesthetic quality can be best
accommodated not in simple pigeonholing (beautiful/ugly, sublime/ridiculous)
but in a space with more than
one dimension within which the judgement of aesthetic quality places
the aesthetic object in consonance with the aesthetic sensibility
underlying the judgement. Elsewhere
(Kelkar 1969) I have suggested that the attribution of aesthetic qualities
involves the ascription of certain perceptual qualities:
Perfection and Harmony-Imperfection and Disharmony
Plentitude and Liveliness-Parvitude and Dullness
Aesthetic adjectives like beautiful, sublime,
etc., (in respect of food, ones like rich, exotic monotonous, drab,
etc.,) can then be related to these perceptions.
Thus, beautiful is that which scores plus on the dimensions
1,2, 3; dainty is that which scores plus on 1, 2 and minus on 4; and
so on. Aesthetic qualities correlate both with focused perceptions (e.g.
purple or sweet seen as rich) and with global, structural perceptions
(e.g. changelessness as parvitude novelty or variety as plentitude,
conformity to a familiar type as harmony).
order to lend some substance to this conceptual framework, let us
apply it to a case study.
An Ethnographic Sketch of the Traditional Diet of Upper-caste Hindus
proposing to describe ethnographically the traditional diet and cuisine
of upper caste Hindu from Maharasthra (a group
to which the author belongs), I am aware that
this is currently undergoing some change, beginning with the
larger cities. It underwent
some changes in the second half of the nineteenth century with the
acceptance of roughly 11.00 to 17.00 hours in the cities as the office
hours which affected employees and some professionals and with the
spread of tea or coffee as drinks (though not quite as an institution
of the British or Japanese kinds) In the first half of the twentieth
century the food habits were relatively stable. By the traditional diet we here mean the diet
of this period to the extent that it has not been affected by more
recent changes (such as the slow obliteration of rice, wheat or millet
dominance based on geography and class distinctions that started with
the war-time rationing of 1940-5, the commoner use of non-vegetarian
food, leavened bread and other bakery products, and ready to-eat food
on sale other than the traditional sweets and savouries).
It may also be noted that this pattern is also spreading to
the other castes in so far as they are moving into white-collar jobs
and adopted the associated life-style.
is not a full-scale description.
Being oriented to the aesthetics of food it does not go deeply
into modes of preparing, serving and preserving food; into the moral,
ritual, economic and other aspects, into the nutritional folk wisdom;
and so forth. Apart from drawing upon my own informal observation
over the years as a participant.
I have also made use of a cookbook.
It is no ordinary cookbook, one of the co-authors is a physician
and the presentation is methodical with systematic definitions of
categories of dishes (Sanmant and Desai 1947/1961).
begin with, one must point out that the reference group has vegetarians
(making partial ‘concessions’-to eating eggs for instance), and non-vegetarians
(all of whom abstain from beef and also by custom from pork). This has to do with caste tradition, family tradition and personal
choice based on taste or moral-religious views. Even the non-vegetarians often eat purely vegetarian
meals because of economic exigencies or for ritual reasons (observance
of special days, abstinence on the part of widows and so forth).
The daily diet (nirtyā-cā āhār)
will consist of the following
The morning tea (with or without a snack) between 06.00 and 08.00hrs
The midday meal between 10.00 and 13.00 hours (dupr-ce ǰevaṇ)
The snack ( with or without tea) (madhlī
between 14.00 and 16.00 hours.
The evening meal between 20.00 and 21.30 hours (rāḍtri-ce
there may be an occasional snack-as when a guest is visiting (pharāḷ).
The second and fourth meals are considered to be proper meals
with a relatively elaborate structure: between the two, the midday
meal is considered to be the main meal.
In contrast, in the working class the morning tea may actually
be a breakfast (nyāhrī)
and the evening meal is considered the main meal.
meals may be divided into ordinary meals (sādhe ǰevaṇ)
or feasts on festive days or special occasions such as the presence
of a special guest or as a “Sunday change” in a public restaurant
fist). Occasionally they may be replaced by a necessarily vegetarian
fast-day meal (upāsā-cā pharāī)
or ritual meal in honour of the dead
A proper meal may be abbreviated for reasons of insufficient
time for preparation or eating, of chronic or occasional shortages
(as in travel), of lack of skill (a novice housewife or an unskilled
male trying to manage a household), or of bodily need.
(The sick person’s diet tends to approximate a young child’s
diet.) From the school age,
a child’s diet will not differ materially from an adult’s diet except
that, resources permitting, the child is encouraged to drink milk
rather than tea in the mornings.
(Maharashtra basically falls within India’s tea zone though
coffee-drinking is also common by personal preference or for a change
of routine-a guest is often greeted with the question “Will you have
tea or coffee?”)
The structure of a snack (pharāī) is relatively
informal-one hot or cold beverage preceded by one by one or two solids. If there are two solids, normally one will
be a sweet and the other a savoury.
Alternatively, ‘dessert fruit’ or dried/rolled grain (or its
preparations) may be served as a snack.
A proper (ǰevaṇ)
is structured more elaborately into numbered courses (pahilā
dursrā aṅka, etc.) along the time axis
and into slots as served on the plate.
There is a standing plate—either a round shallow dish (tāṭ)
made of tin-plated brass, stainless steel, silver or a plantain-leaf
piece or a leaf-plate (partrāval) depending on the occasion
and availability. Liquids
may be served in cups or less formally as topping for the solids. The cup may be a metal cup (vāṭī)
or a leaf-cup (droṇ). Some dishes serve as condiments throughout
the meal (toṇḍī-lāvṇe);
others are the staples of the course in question. The platter is divided into four quadrants: far left, far right,
near right and near left. To
take them up clockwise:
Far left quadrant—condiments
salt; slice of lime(limbū); pickle (loṇce)/suse
powder or paste (koḍrī
caṭṇī); salad; and water
and water (pāpaḍ)/fritter (talaṇ),
consisting of bhaje, pānvḍaī,
sāṇḍgā) /tart .(kāp).
2) far right quadrant-stple condiments (mukhya
along with liquids served in cups): boiled or saut-fired vegetable
pulses (usaḷ) stuffed vegetable (bharle)
pulse flour paste (jhuṇkā), vegterarian
or non-vegetarian soup with or without solid matter (ḍāḷ,
or varṇ, rassa sār, kāḍahī,
sāmbāre, pyhle) milk or milk product (curd yougurt (dahī),
buttermilk yougurt (tāk) clarified yougurt butter or ghee
3. Near right quadrant—rice staples (for
first or third course): for first course either (a) or (b); (a) boiled
rice (sādhā bhāt) mixed with vegetarian or non-vegetarian
salt and ghee (annašuddi),
(b) a combined preparation (khicḍī)
of rice and pulse, sweetened rice (goḍā
bhāt), savoury rice (masāle-bhāt, vegetarian
or non-vegetarian pulāv). For third course (c) boiled
rice mixed with butter milk or curd or milk ******followed by a sipping
of these additives.
4. Near left quadrant-non-rice treats (for
second or main course) and liquid served in cups, if any: either (a)
or (b); (a) unleavened bread or flatbread loafs (tukḍā)
or puffs (purī) or pats vaḍā)
with a sweet spre;.ad (boḷū) that is dipped
into or spread (khḷr, dudhpāk, bāsundī, škrīkhaṇda,
); (b) a combined preparation (sweetinened flatbread (goḍī
poḷi), savoury flatbread (masālā
paroṭhā), sweet pie (karanǰī,
modak), savoury pie, (kačorī),
sweet ball (lāḍū), (ǰilbī).
is served in a metal jug (tāmbyā, loṭā,
gaḍū) and cup (phulpātra)
far left. Note that the sweet
dish is served as a part of the main course and not as a dessert at
the end. Contrast in Sanskrit saying mahduen sampayet (one should
close with a sweet) and the English concept of the sweet dish serving
as a desert at the end of the meal.
Alcoholic beverages are not a part of the meal, but served,
if at all, in a separate all-adult-male session.
is an optional course served at the end in a separate session and
consists of fruit and a liquid (viḍā) (or an abbreviated
substitute like betelnut, cardamom, or clove).
dishes featuring eggs, fish, crustaceans (prawns, crabs, lobsters), liver (mutton, chicken), brains,
mincemeat (khimā), meat cuts (poultry, mutton) as principal
or subsidiary ingredients will thus be seen to enter the diet as a
snack by themselves or as a condiment, a staple condiment, a liquid,
or a rice staple within a meal. Examples
might be, respectively, brain fritters, prawn pickles, fish soup,
(a kind of non-vegetarian pulāv, boiled rice granshid
with pieces of roast meat). The
all too famous ‘curry’ is thus a rassa that goes with rice
as a liquid additive.
In preparing snacks, rice staples, and khīr (milk boiled with
staple grain or vegetable) the following act as rise surrogates: puffed
rice (curmuā) parched grain (lāhī,
flattened grain (poh-resembling breakfast cereals), pasta (gahulā,
šveaī) sago granules
The fast-day dishes often mimic the ordinary day dishes with
‘permitted’ ingredients substituting for ‘prohibited ingredients.
The two far quadrants house the peripheral condiments; the
two near quadrants house the nuclear staples/treats.
The two left quadrants house variable condiments or treats;
the two right quadrants house staple condiments or staple main dishes.
The main or second course features the treat, the opening first
or the closing third course features rice.
Abbreviated meals will feature just one or two courses: rice
staple possibly with liquid additive and/or a non-rice treat. Staple condiments can substitute for the sweet
spread on the flatbreads or puffs.
There is no clear break between the near quadrants (the dish
that defines the course) and the far quadrants (the condiments).
ingredients of dish are broadly categorized as follows:
1) The medium: own juice (āp-ras), water, milk buttermilk
yogurt, some other juice for cooking: oil or ghee for frying.
Shortening (mohan), oil, ghee
(2) The main ingredient: grain that is plain or preprocessed, its surrogate,
pulse, flour, milk, curd yogurt, milk condensed by boiling to a cheese.
Texture (khavā), beestings (čīk),
soft cheese (čhāna)), non-vegetarian or
The main ingredient of a condiment: vegetable leafs, leaf stems (deṭh), gourds and pods, bulbs and
tubers and roots, flowers, non-vegetarian or fast-day surrogatge.
(3) The subsidiary ingredient as relish or garnish (vyanǰan):
pulse or flour, dry or green groundnuts (peanuts) (with an item from
2.1 above), dry fruits, grated dry or fresh coconut, green coriander, curry leaves, onion or garlic cloves or green peas
or green chickpeas; non-vegetarian or fast-day surrotgate.
(4) The seasoning ingredient (in limited quantities):
Sweeteners: sugar, jaggery (gūḷ ), (Honey is not used
in this way).
Savoury agents: salt; pungent seasoning (pepper, capsicum, ginger).
Staple spices: mustard, fengureen, asafetida, tumeric, cumin seed,
Special spices (garam masālā): cinnamon, tamāl-patra
‘Sweet’ spices (goḍā masālā): saffron,
cardamom, nutmeg, etc; poppy seed.
Spices burst in scalding-hot oil (phodini).
Acid agents: tamarind, mangosten peels (āmsūl), āmboši or āmcūr (dried
raw mango),bla dock leaves (cuk, Rumex vescurlus, akin to the common sort), vinegar, curd yogurt,
(1) Texture control: pounding, grinding, dicing, grating, rolling, crushing,
kneading, stirring, etc: melting.
Freezing is a recent innovation.
(2) Moisture control: soaking, drying, airing, etc.
(3) Ingredient control:
mixing, sprinkling, peeling, husking, removing impurities, cleaning,
removing fibrous content, etc.
(4) temperature control: slow application of low
heat or quick application of high heat (through open fire, hot plate,
hot sand or ashes, hot air in a closed oven (baking, strewing, boiling,
steaming, deep-frying, sauté frying) cooling (Chilling is a novelty).
(5) Chemical control: fermenting, using yogurt starter (virajen),
aging (The use of yeast or baking
soda is rare novelty).
(6) Bacteria control: candying,
salting, spicing, vinegaring (Irradiation is an innovation that is
not widely practiced).************************************
Such is the input of the aesthetic processing of the Maharasthra
upper caste Hindu palate. (Actually
the organ of taste in Marathi is the tongue, not the palate).
In order to understand better the aesthetic sensibility and
the aesthetic processing of food with this group, one must also look
at the cultural and social context of the preparation and consumption
of food in the group.
Traditionally both the preparation of food and its consumption
are ritual acts and call for appropriate conditions-the cook and the
consumer should have batched and one should not
eat with the ritually impure left hand, for example.
One of the various Marathi verses recited when commencing a
meal, for example, ends with the line:
udarabhara nohe jāṇiǰe
Know ye that this is not filling the belly, this is
A sacrificial act (to the sacrificial fire of the
Stomach that consumes, i.e. digests, the food)
Alternatively, the food constitutes not the sacrificial offering
(havya) in a yahña but the offering (naivedya
and prasāda) in a non-Vedic puja. The meal begins after the host has offered it to the tutelary deity
(the family deity, the community deity, or the personal is-). Some people say at the end of the meal-
May (this act) be dedicated to Krishna!’
There are orthodox persons who never eat except at the two
formal meals or who never eat food except when prepared in their own
home. Even others are a bit shame-faced about eating for pleasure-one
needs a certain privacy even for a snack (eating by the roadside is
frowned upon). One is expected
to resist when the host offers tea or a snack.
Since food is sacred, one must not step on a food particle.
In some subcultures within this group (for example, among Chitpavan
Brahmans) leaving food on the platter is frowned upon.
A common parental injuction is—
anna khāūn mājā, tākūn mājū
‘May you eat and grow strong; don’t waste and grow arrogant.
other subcultures within this group the sacred duty of hospitality
tends to come into conflict with these values.
A guest failing to leave food on the platter will be worried
that he may be taken to be too greedy or all too hungry.
He will also make the host feel uneasy: perhaps the guest has
gone hungry and thus he has failed in his hospitality.
One has to be mindful of the following ritually questionable
states of food:
anna ‘food with a cereal in boiled or roasted state as an ingredient
and so not open to being offered to a ritually higher person outside
your commensal group (cf. Hindi sakrā; contrast Marathi
nirlep anna ‘food like milk, fruit that can be so offered’)
anna food that one has touched with one’s lips or tongue and so
that one cannot offer to another person other than one’s spouse or
offspring or (before the thread ceremony) one’s mother’
Then there is the whole lore about one’s food preferences being
both indicative of
one’s personality and
conducive to a certain state of health and mind.
The Ayurveda doctrines of the three humours (dhātu)of
Phlegm, Bile. Wind, representing
three of the five elements (mahābhūta), Water Fire,
Wind respectively and of the two qualities, ‘hot’(usṇa)
and ‘cold’ (šīta)
associated respectively with Bile and accompanying Wind play an important
part in this lore as also the Sankhyavada doctrine of the three qualities
of sattva (self-dependence), rajas (other-dependence), and tamas (inertness)
and the associated states of mind respectively of bliss and fulfillment;
of fluctuation between pleasure and pain and between affection and
disaffection; and of sensual indulgence, non-insight, indolence, and
course Maharastrians do not always think ritualistically or medically
about food. On the whole, they are not real gourmets as
a group. The one exception
among upper-caste Hindus is a small subculture including the Gaud
Saraswats, the Chandraseniya Kayastha Prabhus, and the Pathare Prabhus
(all along the West Coast). Compared
to other Indians, they eat less in quantity.
Correlations Between individual Elements and Semiotic and Structralist
Now we are in position
to relate the framework of aesthetics (section 1) and the ethnography
of our case study (section II).
object of food is open to sense perception and mental perception. This social group operates with certain taxonomic
categories and preferences.
Tastes: The traditional taxonomy is as follows
Sweet madhura god
Acid āmla āmbat
Salt lavaṇa khārat common salt
Pungent katu tikhat
casicum, pepper, ginger, radish
Bitter rikta kadū
Astringent kasāya turat
alum, pulses, meats, walnut, tea
Also, the doctrine holds that the meal should feature all six
as contributing to health as tastiness (miṣṭa
caviṣṭā),. Certain groupings are recognized as available
1) + sweet + - (acid + - salt + - astringent)
2) + salt + - (pungent + -
(acid + - sweet) + - bitter + - astringent)
corresponds to the broad sweet/savoury grouping.
The spices may be classified as appropriate for sweet/savoury
dishes. Non-vegetarian items
are almost invariably savoury. One
may note ***** the Maharastrian propensity to combine tastes,
a trait which they share with the Gujaratis Varieties of tastelessness
are conveyed by: ***
and flavours: there is no recognized taxonomy.
Other things being equal, freshness
of natural produce and cooked food is valued for flavour and
better nutritional value. Cooked
food not left overnight is considered fresh.
Some preferred flavours are:
Nutty khamaṇga nut,
caramel, roasted coconut or onion, well heated ghee or oil, (condensed milk)
very lightly sour but not spoiled
critic mbā-čā citrus fruits (especially the
svādā-cā aromatic oil in their peels)
aromatic spices, green coriander or mint or curry leaves
fragrant suvāsīk saffron,
khus grass, rose(used in food in drink);
vanilla and chocolate
Fragrant flavours and some of the spicy flavours
are recognized as compatible with the sweet group and not with the
spicy group. Some flavours
are unwanted (or wanted only by a small minority):
over fermented, spoilt milk, overripe fruit
Cheesy khavat stale ghee or oil or coconut
Farty pādrat black salt (with sulphur content)
kujkat rotten meat or eggs
Strong ugra arise leaves (śepu)
The group under consideration
does not really go in for subtle flavours.
Feel; Hot and warm food is preferred. (Chilled items are
a novelty). Since food is eaten with fingers, the touch comes into
play at that point also. Traditional
taxonomy classified food as: edible potable (khādya ),
(peya), suckable (čosya), and lickable (lehya). Sucking and licking—preferably noisy-is much
enjoyed especially by children. There
is no recognized taxonomy of textures.
There are two basic groups:
Dry and hard: kaḍkaḍīt,
kurkurīt, khuskhušīt, alavār in ascending order of friability.
2) Soft and wet: in ascending order of mushiness;
in ascending order of mushiness; vātaḍ,
cothaṭ, luslušīt in
ascending order of tenderness; bharbarāḍ,
ravaḷ, gulgulīt snigdha, cabcabīt,
meṇcaṭ in ascending
order of unctuosness.
The jelly-like quality
is a novelty. Some unwanted
Chewey cāmat, vātad,
ochra or lady fingers juice for example
Itchy khalerā oxalic acid crystals in certain
stems and tubers
Sticky eitaṭ gums,
Dishes and platters may
be graded from heavy through filling to light.
Sights: Saffron is
also valued for its colour. (Artificial
colouring are new.) Large
servings and large morsels are regarded as crude.
Thus, two servings of rice are better than a large mound of
rice. (The use of the fluted pastry wheel [kātaṇe]
is new, as is the use of silver foil with sweets in the North.)
(Sounds: This aspect has already been subsumed with feel. Mental perceptions about food may have to do with its ritual status
or its health status, with the setting of the preparation or of consumption,
and with the ethnic identification.
Ritual Status: The dish may be fit for a fast-day or for a
meal in honour of the dead. The
dish may be more or less subject to commensalityh taboos (uṣṭe,
kaharkaṭe, nirlep). The platter may be looked upon either as a
havya in a yaja-karma or as a naivedya, in a
pūǰa. Certain food (especially non-vegetarian food)
and drinks (especially alcoholic drinks may be ritually forbidden
to certain categories of persons-thus, meat and drink to Brahmans,
fish to most Brahmans, beef to non-untouchable Hindus,
etc. They may be ritually
enjoined or forbidden tin certain circumstances, for example, meat
is forbidden during the Hindu ‘Lent’ (caturmasa) from Aadii (cool drink with bhnag as a merged *********************
Health-status: some foods may be specially recommended (pathya)
or forbidden (apathya) for reasons for health and sickness:
for example, for a nursing mother; compatibility with the reason’s
constitution; convalescence; antidotal quality against certain toxic
or noxious substances; etc. Foods are graded according to their digestibility; certain foods
are rendered more digestible when eaten with certain other foods;
eating certain pair of food together is considered unhealthy, violating
against viruddhāšana rules Food are not only classified
as placating or disturbing the humours—Phlegm, Bile or wind-and as
‘hot’ or ‘cold’, but also classified as sāttvika (and
so recommended to the student, the celebrate, the weak in health,
the other-wordly), rājasa (and so recommended to the this-wordly
and men of high power status), and tamas a(and so associated with
persons of low caste or of low moral fibre).
(Cf. Bhagavad-gita 17.8-10, where
the classification of aha diet is more abstract: satuka being trasty
unctuous stable (will keep
well electable rajasa being pungent acid very not, sharp, non-unctuous unfit for oblation. Milk products, cereals (especially barley),
fruit; honey, etc. are sāttvika meat, alcohol, spices.
Oil when overindulged in, are tāmasa, Seasonal foods are deemed to be healthy other things being equal. A pregnant woman’s cravings must be satisfied;
this is a moral obligation, these cravings are supposed to reflect
the personality of the prospective offspring.
Setting for preparation: for the orthodox, a private home or
the communal yajna/pūǰa
are the only proper settings for the preparation (and consumption)
of food. Buying ready-to-eat
food and eating it at a public eating-shop is frowned upon. Cleanliness is sought after. Expert
cooks (vegetarian, sweetmaker, non-vegetarian) are valued, but not
prized as they are in some other societies. Most people are content with food made the way my mother/wife makes
it, ‘unless the mother/wife happens to be exceptionally bad cook,
which is not uncommon.
Setting for the consumption of the food: dishes may be classified
according as they are--
prepared and served immediately (or at any rate fairly soon) at a
proper meal (ǰevṇā-cā
prepared and served immediately for a snack (pharālā-cā
half-prepared, stored for months, and served with minimal processing
at a proper meal or snack (sāthvṇī-cā
padārtha or ṭikāū padārtha),
prepared stored for weeks or months, and served at a proper meal or
snack (pharālā- cā sāthvṇī-cā
padārtha or pharālā cā ṭikāū
prepared dishes are preferred. Dishes
available for a proper meal may be graded form the very ordinary to
a delicacy appropriate to a special feast.
Dishes available for a snack may be graded from rather heavy
khāṇe) to quite light (toṇḍāt
tākāy-ce khāṇe). Food is eaten with one’s fingers. (The use of a spoon, or even more, a knife
and a fork is a novelty. Not
eating with one’s fingers is felt to deprive one of the ****** pleasure. ) The occasion for consumption-(Whether a proper meal or a snack-may
be graded from informal (improvised, intimate, variable) to ceremonial
(carefully prepared, prearranged, highly structured). Table talk is something of a novelty; in very
orthodox homes, talking is discouraged among the females and the young
mixed session Persuading a consumer, especially a guest, to eat more
(āgraha) can range from very informal (often with some
horseplay) to rather formal. At ‘intimate’ eating-shops the cook or server
may indulge in this practice as a mark of familiarity and friendship. The reciprocal of this is for the consumer
to express his appreciation or disapproval of a dish or of the whole
platter. (Disapproval is of
course to be expressed most guardedly, if at all-certainly not to
the pareparer’s face except in very informal settings.
Even appreciation is sometimes expressed guardedly—e.g. after
the meal is over so as to ward off āgraha.)
The ritual form of expressing thanks is to bless the head of
the family or the host. A
common Sanskrit formula is.
annadātā sukhī bhava ‘May the giver of this food be happy!. Nonverbal
appreciation and thanks often take the form of burping, but his is
not considered ‘modest’ for adult females.
The consumer sits on the floor, with or without grass or wooden
or cloth seats, in the modified sukhasana posture proper for a ritual. For females this is modified to a more ‘modest’
khurmāṇḍī. The platter is set individually on the floor
in front of the participants with a wooden plank, floor decoration
incense burning on ceremonial occasions. It is said that the setting
of the meal and the structuring of the platter was formalized by the last Peshwa ruler of
Pune, Bajirao II in the beginning of the 19th century. The use of chair and table is a novelty. The
sharing of a platter by two persons is approved only between mother
and a very young child. The
‘palces’ are set in rows (paṅgat);
eating in the same row with another implies a higher degree of commensality.
Children, adult males, a and adult females traditions eat in
separate rows, if not in separate sessions.
Ethnic identity: some dishes are served often and prepared
specially well by some castes. Most
of the novelties or recent innovations are associated with Westernization
or Modernizations. The process of Brahmanizaion has also effected
some customs related. There
is greater divergence in respect of non-vegetarian cuisine, many dishes
being clearly taken over form Mughlai Cusine (of North Indian artists
the Muslims). Some vegetarian
dishes too (ǰiblī,
etc) have also been borrowed from the North.
As I have already suggested, aesthetic processing and the categorization
of aesthetic quality are very casual in this group.
At this point it may be useful to place the group under study
in its proper cultural and geographical setting.
South Asia is transition zone between West Asia and south-East
Asia not only in respect of food preferences, but also in many other
matters. South-East Asia, in turn, is a transition zone between South
Asia and China (Thus, Chinese-like chopsticks are used in Vietnam
and Cambodia but not in Burma or Thailand.)
Most of the isomers that divided South Asia and align parts
of it with the two neighbouring culture-areas pass through Maharastara.
Feature Like North
and West Like South Maharastra
Preference for sweets
+ - +-
Preference for savouries - +
Preference for soft,
Uncituous (as appoceis
to - +
Ha, dra, gi texture
Preference for quick
application of high heat +
Preference for slow
Application of low heat -
Preference for masking
The ‘raw’ flavour - + +
Costal areas and upper-caste Hindus + , the rest -,
Again, South Asia has
its own internal isomers and many of these pass through Maharashtra.
Feature Like West
Asia Like South-East Asia Maharasthra
+ - -+
Preferring tea + - +
Preferring coffee - + -+
meal - +
Eating + - -
Brahmanization -+ - +
Westernization -+ - +
The overall conclusion of all this is that Maharastra has no
readily recognizable food profile.
Many of the favorite dishes originate in or are shared with
Gujarat or Karnataka-Andhra. In recent times the South Indian iḍalī, the Panjabi chole bhaṭure,
and other such items have made their way to Maharashtiran homes and eat-shops.
There are caste, sex and age stereotypes within the group under
study. For example, Chitpavan Brahmans are supposed
to prefer buttermilk, yogurt, rice, fresh coconut, arum leaves, use
sparingly capsicum and use generously sweet, acid foods.
Yajurvedi Deshastha Brahmans use sweet sapiraly and groundnuts,
capsicum generously. CKP people
********* use spices and
mutton. Saraswat Brahman love
salt-water fish, fresh coconut, and spices.
Females prefer, acid, astringent, salt and nutty-flavoured
foods, especially and avoid bitter, pungent foods.
Immature adults go for sweets and avoid bitter, pungent, astringent
Aesthetic quality may be associated with sense perceptions
or with the combinatory qualities—(ingredients in a dish, dishes in
a platter, courses in a meal, diets in a cuisine).****************************************
There is some attempt unity
within a course or in a whole meal. The back and forth movement between
condiments and staples/treats (between far and near quadrants), the
doctrine of the six tastes in a meal, and the mixing of tastes (sweet-acid,
salt in Khīr,
jaggery in savouries) emphasize diversity and de-emphasize perfect
harmony. Avoidance of incongruities
(the grouping of relishes and spices into those appropriate for sweets
and for savouries) emphasizes harmony.
Some dishes are greatly variable with equally acceptable ways
of preparing them while others demand conformity to prototypical perfection. The application of the Sankhyavadi doctrine
of the three qualities to food habits implies a harmonious correlation
between food habits, personality and life-style.
One can argue that the exception that the use relishes and
spices and the control of texture, mosisture, temperature and chemical
effects mask rather than preserve and enhance the ‘raw flavour of
the main ingredient is congruous with the transformation lists poetics
of classical India.*
* I am indebted to H.S. Senventane’s
discussion of Sinhalese food for this point.
The use of sight-values, icense-burning, melodious shenai music
(anai) as accompaniments to ceremonial meals testify to the striving
for harmony between an activity, its experience and its setting.
present study is essentially a study in aesthetic description and
not and example of aesthetic criticism.
The crucial methodological point for present purposes, is,
therefore, not the philosophical validation of aesthetic judgements,
but the descriptive validation of the attribution of mental perceptions
and aesthetic judgements to the culture of a defined social group.
This descriptive validation brings us face to face with certain
semiotic and structralist considerations when we look for the appropriate
evidence for the attributions.
Language, whether at the level of vocabulary or at the level
of staple verbalizations, constitutes and important kind of evidence:
thus, Sanskrit miṣṭa
(past particle of miṣ -mṛṣ-‘sprinkle’)
‘tasty’ has a reflex mīthā ‘sweet’ in Hindi and mītḥ
‘common salt’ in marathi. Does
this not suggest divergent ideas of tastiness?
That the Marathi words for gourmet (khayyā) and feast
fīsṭ) should be borrowings
from Hindi-Urdu and English is probably significant. The verbalizations are important evidence for cultural categories.
The Marathi expressions for plain fare are
miṭh- bhākri kāndā-bhākri
(‘onion and millet flatbread’) depending on the caste, the class,
and the region. The folk taxonomy
of dishes is amply shown by examining the range of application of
category labels like phrāḷā
-cā padārtha tikhṭā-miṭhā-cā
padārtha, and the like. The anatomy of a platter is revealed
by category labels like kālavṇ, toṇḍi
The use of body language has also been touched upon earlier
(burping , modified padmāsana, rows, of individual places,
sharing a platter).
The geometry of the table setting or of the platter (the quadrants
of the Maharastrian platter, the three sectors of the White-Anglo-Saxon
Protestant American platter) is of course a more overt non-verbal
signage. Behavioral evidence is seen when we compare
the ‘full’ meal with its abbreviated versions; the ‘native’ diet with
its modified versions occasioned by migration or borrowing. Verbal behaviour also provides evidence; for
instance one can examine responses to a question such as ‘What did
you have for lunch/dinner today?”
Evidence for past food habits is available not only in past
forms of language but also in documents analyzed philologically.
For example, food catalogues are a common feature of a genre
of narrative poems in Mediaeval Marathi literature.
there is the larger question of food-meanings in the context of other
life-meanings and of the food-style in the context of the life-style
as a whole. Are there positive
and negative correlations between certain food habits and certain
dress habits, housing habits, leisure habits or even literary habits?
(See Kroeber 1957) especially pages 4-7 on style in food, 19-27,70-82,
149-60 on style in entire civilizations.) University of Poona
Kelkar, Ashok R. 1969. “On aesthesis,” Humanist Review (Bombay)2, 211-28, April-
Alfred L. 1957. Style in Civilization.
Messenger lectures, NY: Cornell University Press.
Champabai and Damodar Dinkar Desai.
1947 (1961). Ādhunika
Pune: Anath Vidyarthi Grina, (3rd revised edition 1961).
This was presented at an international colloquium
on Food Systems and Communication Systems hosted by CIIL at Mysore,2-8
January 1985 and published in Poetics East and West, ed Milora Poelova.
Velingerorara, Toronto: Semiotic Circle, Victoria College, University
of Toronto, 1989.