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The Importance and Significance of Traditional Foods


In the recent years, it’s become quite obvious that a lot of Indians don’t really know what the traditional food of their home state is. In a country that is filled with fast-food companies and a growing number of restaurants and eateries from different parts of the world, this really doesn’t come as much of a surprise. But it’s also quite sad that the younger generation will never really know what counts as traditional depending on where they’re from.

As a kid, I only ate food that my grandmother or mother made. Even if we went on holidays to a hill station or out to dinner with the family, I would be unhappy about it. I was never a fussy eater, but I would have preferred that I eat food cooked at home. Nowadays, I eat out so much that all I crave on a daily basis is to eat home cooked food. Not my version of homecooked, obviously, but that magical touch that mom has when she cooks a delicious meal, making it seem so effortless.

I grew up appreciating the best of Malayali food, from the way we make our vegetarian dishes – the thoran with generous amounts of shredded coconut, the delicious avial which has every vegetable you can think of, even what the world now calls beef fry. These were important to me and my cousins, because this was as traditional and authentic as it got. And let’s not forget the magical time of Onam when you get to sit on the floor with your friends and families, and feast from a bottomless banana leaf of food. It’s probably the one time a year that we got to eat incredibly delicious Malayali food and not apologise even once for eating too much. You were encouraged to take as many helpings as possible and wash it down in the end with home made payasam.

While I love eating out now and trying new foods, give me a plate or a day of eating food that was made at home and I’d be the happiest person alive. Lots of people these days, don’t understand the importance of embracing ones traditional food or the culture they were born into. Some understand the balance, others don’t. And why is that?

The Fast-Food Problem

We’ve talked about the way fast-food is changing the world and it’s no different in India. Anywhere you look, there’s a new outlet opened by McDonald’s or KFC and then the next day, there’s another one. No matter what, fast-food will always be the winner in a discussion about where to go for lunch. This is exactly why Kerala is implementing the ‘fat tax’, because the state realises that the youth don’t really know or care for the traditional food made at home. Besides it being a huge part of our cultural identity, it’s also the healthier option. Granted, these brands coming to India is also helping the country be seen as a growing market, but the youth of tomorrow don’t need to prove that by being unhealthy. Or forgetting where they come from.

Given a choice, most people would still choose to eat a burger or pizza instead of a thali or a fantastic home made meal with all of the best dishes. It’s not that we can flat out assume that everyone is like this, but if you ask anybody to choose between mom’s cooking and a burger, you might find that the answer sways more to the latter. But what is also a little unsettling is that people of my generation feel the same way.

The Importance of Importance

It’s not just traditional food that is being forgotten, even the magic of traditional things at home are slipping through our fingers. Every festival has now become about upmanship and it’s not just about the tradition and experience and celebration anymore. The same way, food is being forgotten and other foods are entering the traditional celebration. Obviously lots of fast food chains are introducing new and special menus for festivals and celebrations, making those the obvious choice for people everywhere. While it’s understandable why people would pick those choices, why would anyone forgo the traditional meal with their family to sit in a crowded restaurant or food court and eat a burger wrapped in paper? Or even if you are ordering in, why would you want to eat processed food as opposed to freshly made traditional food that is obviously much better in every way?