I’m getting a bit weary of Francofiles blaming the demise of French culture on American food. Sure the world is shrinking and waistlines are expanding. McDonald’s certainly plays a role in both of these phenomena, but it’s hardly new and it didn’t start with fast food. I see it this way: after 14 seasons of television Ozzie and Harriet started to look like each other. It’s the same for planet Earth. After 14 centuries of globalization our world-wide culinary traditions have started to look a lot alike as well. I’ve got Lamb Vadouvan with Lentils, Quinoa, and Chickpeas to prove it for once and for all.
It’s nobody’s fault and it certainly did not start with Americans, but the world wasn’t always so globally homogeneous. It started becoming that way with the onset of continental travel (boats not planes). Which has led us on a path where a fritter in France is a donut in Denmark and a beignet in Boston.
But what about curries? Curries might just be the soul food of India. Yet, they can be bland in Britain and blazing in Bangkok. But in India, a curry is a curry and it’s always been that way – right?
Curry is nothing more than a spice blend. Sure there are expected components in Indian curries such as cumin, coriander, and turmeric. How much and what else is pretty much up to the cook. If there’s one thing I know about cooks it’s that they reach for the things they like, especially in a pinch.
Americans like ketchup. Indians like cumin. The French like shallots. What if a Frenchman in Pondicherry, India (circa 1814 or so) decided that his curry needed a hit of home. What if that chef reached for a shallot instead of ginger? My guess is he’d begin to believe that he made the local dish that much better with a bit of French influence.
California Rhône blends: Beckmen Vineyards Cuvée Le Bec
Pairs well with Asian cuisine, barbecue, grilled foods, fresh herbs
Well that’s exactly how we got the very French sounding curry dish known as vadouvan. It’s also how this American food blogger decided to use a vadouvan curry paste to flavor a globally-influenced Lamb Vadouvan with Lentils, Quinoa, and Chickpeas.
Now for the facts: Vadouvan is a spice blend that became popular in the former French territories of Southern India. The blend has as many personalities as the number of cooks who make it. Typically, it consists of shallots and garlic (à la the French influence) as well as fenugreek, and a host of warm spices that can include turmeric, cumin, cardamom, and mustard seeds.
My point is this. Yes, the world is shrinking. Yes, you can get crappy American burgers on the Champs-Élysées. But (to borrow an American colloquialism) it ain’t nothin’ new. As a colonial power, France persuaded its territories to adopt some form of full-fledged Frenchiness. Be it the food, the language, or the urban planning. There are parts of Pondicherry, India that even today feel as thoroughly French as the boulevards in their city grid, and the shallots that show up in (nearly) every curry pot. GREG
PS In fact, the French croissant is as widely traveled as the American burger.