Marks & Spencer slaps Biryani

The biryani has always been a much talked about and is also a subject of great debate amongst food enthusiasts. There is also a debate on its origin, whether it comes from Central Asia or is it Indian, whether it is vegetarian or with some meat? Whether it should be dry or a little moist?

Biryani today is a generic term and has different variations all throughout India and every region has its own recipe. A south Indian Biryani will taste absolutely different from the biryani in Lucknow. The combination of spices is different, the rice is different as in south India the vogue for Basmati rice is not prevalent and so is the method of cooking. But maybe a few guidelines can be checked into: the spices in biryani need to be more intense compared to the pulao, the biryani should be a bit wet than pulao. Whilst we in India are still unsure on parametres exactly to describe a biryani UK on the other hand is coming up with varied versions of biryani.

We are familiar with Marks & Spencer as a brand for clothing and apparels but rarely know that the brand holds a significant role in the food industry. But due to constraints in India they only sell clothes. That’s also the reason for a decline in their growth chart. In the UK food with consistent quality is always sought after.

Indians might be surprised to know that large super markets in Britain are loaded with packets of ready-to-eat chicken tikka. The tikka, with a bright coloured sheen lamely looks like the tikkas made in India but the taste is a bit familiar but had this kind of tikka served in any restaurant in India surely the person who prepared it would be sent to the pantry to wash utensils or at best fired out.

It is fine as it is a made in Britain and not in India. Similarly the Chinese would feel the same if they are served chicken Manchurian in India as it is not their kind it is an amalgam of Indian and Chinese cooking.

The foods that come to our table have a cross-cultural influence, taking the example of scotch eggs which in the days of the British Raj adapted from Nargisi kofta. The popularity of the scotch eggs has made it sell outside petrol stations in the UK. One should not have any objections what the original dish is transformed to so far as they do not call it Nargisi kofta.

The entire biryani controversy teaches us that food is much beyond the fancy names by which it is called for sake of marketing.

Though amazing to see how the British have done to Indian dishes, let’s say kedgeree, which according to Larousse Gastronomique is a mixture of rice, lentils and some spices along with some onions and ginger called khichiri dating back to 14th century and eaten throughout India. After which the British took a liking towards it and thus kedgeree was coined.

This is a natural phenomenon and it ought to happen and should be allowed to.

Marks & Spencer recently started selling a version of Biryani with sweet potatoes. Barely can one call it a biryani or anything close to a biryani. It is made like a wrap where the flat bread is filled with buckwheat, red peppers, sweet potato, small amount of rice and curry powder.  One feels clueless of the fact that which brainy person decided to venerate the biryani as a wrap with a few grains of rice and spices, but for Marks & Spencer which pays a good salary to its team of food experts and researchers should know better. It would rather be wise to change the name of such a dish from biryani to something else or take it off their shelves.

After varied debates on various social media networks on this subject and soon flared up in big arguments. The argument then took a turn claiming whether a Biryani could ever be vegan? Is it necessary to have meat or fish?

A  London based Indian chef rather commented that Marks & Spencer is just borrowing an idea, even though it is executed in a weird way of having a triple carb, but at the same time it is giving India a great compliment.

But in reality we need no such honours to be placed on Marks & Spencer shelves.

Cultural aptness creeps in when there is an adaptation from poor countries steep in rich countries, similar to how Cold play; a British rock band was accused of cultural appropriation when they shot videos in India. M&S is now been accused of cultural appropriation for serving a Biryani Wrap. Well it is difficult to understand what one would call cultural appropriation- when George Harrison played sitar or when Beatles spread Indian music to a larger audience? The spread of chicken tikka sandwich is it not cultural appropriation?

It is difficult to understand cultural appropriation and especially in the context of food when an awkward thing like biryani wrap comes on food counters and astonishes the food lovers, but to some it may sound as a compliment to India.

M&S maybe tried to make a wrap that was vegan but maybe could not sell as it did not have a fancy tag to it, that might be the reason why the word ‘biryani’ was added to make it more interesting and ear-appealing and also a way to indicate that it contained curry powder.

It is simply marketing gimmicks and nor any compliment as these thing do not appropriate our culture. The food of the world is so enormous and one is free to borrow thing from each other but there should be a kind of respect for dishes from whom one is borrowing, in simple terms one will not call a korma – a roast chicken, or cauliflower Manchurian as Peking cauliflower. In all name matters, so is its identity.