David Chang’s Ugly Delicious talks Indian Food

The US chef David Chang and his friend Aziz Ansari dropped in McDonald’s in Nariman Point after a daylong shoot for Netflix show, ‘Ugly Delicious’. The eagerness for fast food and to see how McDonald’s Indianised its menu and to know what locals feel about it. It is fun to find how local tastes differ from place to place, like in Japan there are shrimp burgers and Italy serves Nutella buns

The young manager at the McDonald’s recognised Chang from the previous season of Ugly Delicious and rushed to Chang in appreciation of a notable chef in the outlet. They were not given the permission to shoot inside the outlet but to show the menu and even suggested Piri-Piri potato fries. He overwhelmingly inquired from Chang, if there were any plans of opening his chain of Momofuku restaurants in India.

There are always high expectations from international shows like Ugly Delicious and Chang started asking as to why Indian food despite being so diverse and integral part of culture is not so well known globally? But many people seemed just interested in knowing the answer.

Sooner this news of coming to India was out and a swarm of suggestions erupted on social media about the places he must cover, after the episode was released, as always there were appreciations and criticisms regarding the places chosen.

It is expectable, as people are fervent about food and like to see their suggestions are accepted. Chang confessed that Indians being so passionate for their food, they do not need anyone’s acceptance or approvals. Chang puts forth that how and what he eats in India will not make a difference to people around the globe and that too through a single Netflix episode.

The reaction of the young manager at McDonald’s in Mumbai does add value to the efforts put in these types of shows, if such an audience inspires new viewers towards affairs related with food, asking questions, appreciating their views and encouraging friendly debates. Netflix as an intercontinental platform, which reaches not only audiences from the English speaking countries but also to other countries that one does not consider the prospect for Indian food.

Ugly Delicious is mainly focused at the American market, but the questions asked by Chang could easily be put forth to other European countries as well as to the Asian countries including the Indian subcontinent or even South America and Africa. The countries who really know about the Indian food are those countries, which were part of the erstwhile British Empire or the countries where Indians were taken away by the British to their various colonies or the later day migrations.

Though one does find association with Indian food in countries like the UK and Australia with the disregarding the very idea of ‘curry powder’ which is also featured in Ugly Delicious. In France le curry forms a part of some classic dishes like mouclade, which is curry flavoured  mussels.

The French cooking book and encyclopedia, Larousse Gastronomique has a fixed composition of curry powder beyond any Indian’s imagination. At the Universal Paris Exhibition in 1884,  the composition of curry powder was set by decree: 34 gms tamarind; 44 gms onions; 20 gms coriander; 5 gms chilli pepper; 3 gms turmeric; 2 gms cumin; 3 gms fenugreek; 2 gms pepper; 2 gms mustard.

Of course shows like Ugly Delicious has crushed the very myth of a comprehensive curry powder to be used in all dishes, but also created another myth that Indian food is complex having a lot many spices and ingredients thus creating a notion that Indian food is quite spicy but one does not seem to see the amounts in which the spices are put into the dish, they rather just see through the long list of ingredients.

It is a fact that Indians do use a blend of spices called as ‘masalas’ in specific dishes for the ease of putting each spice individually. One thing noteworthy is the texture attained through these blended spice mixes as they use certain spices which improve the texture of the dish, like the coriander powder which apart from giving a flavor, also acts as an excellent thickening agent giving curries a consistency to go well with rice or chapatti. Similarly the famous East Indian bottle masala from Mumbai containing substantial amount of roasted and ground wheat which gives the thin curries, a body to go with rice.

Such issues can be dealt with when such interactions with Indian food is on the move and all other restrictions of putting up issues in a single episode is not easy, but shows like Ugly Delicious put up well. People like the young manager at McDonald’s, also bridge up the gap for all kinds of food interests.