Venn Food Diagrams: L.A.'s Idea of Indian Food vs. What Indians Really Eat
Our continuing series of Venn Food Diagrams moves from the great American South to an even more controversy-prone collection of states... India.
Methodology: Once again, we conducted an informal survey through e-mail, Facebook, and actually talking to people. Statisticians might scoff at our methods, and no doubt we probably missed a few things, but these diagrams are meant to be a conversation starter, not the whole conversation.
Conclusion: Our natural curiosity about world cultures and daredevil fascination with spice draw Angelenos to Indian cuisine. With the prevalence and broad range of Indian restaurants and markets available in and around the city, our knowledge has mostly caught up with our appetites.
Notes: Many of L.A.'s "wrong" answers, like pakoras (fried vegetable appetizers) and naan bread, weren't really wrong. Indians do eat those things, but not nearly as much as we do (or think that they do).
A revealing item on the overlap - Angelenos and Indians alike raved about malai kofta (veggie balls in a thick, creamy sauce), a delicacy by which any credible North Indian chef should be judged.
Several factors complicate any attempt to define the food of a billion-plus Indians around the world. Credit for malai kofta's origin belongs to the Mughal Empire, providing just one example of how thousands of years of occupation by other ethnic groups have shaped and redefined the cuisine. To this day, India's diverse and ever-evolving religious practices, which can vary by the specific community of a family's lineage, play a fundamental role in dietary choices.
But perhaps the greatest obstacle to a consensus is that each of the 28 Indian states represents its own universe with a unique cooking style and in many cases a completely separate language. Dishes that appear common to multiple locations may have different names, along with noticeable changes in texture or flavor. Don't order a dosa (doe-suh) in a Tamilian restaurant. Order a dosai (doe-say). Rather than Angelenos vs. Indians, a more telling Venn diagram might be Indians vs. Themselves.