Food And Context

Food for Thought

The prime retail space on the ground floor of the new highrise on Delancey street is now occupied by a posh restaurant called Dhamaka. Looking at the menu, I could not figure out what kind of restaurant it is. It looked Indian, so I took a photo of it and sent it to my Indian friend for evaluation. His reply, “Not sure.” We went in anyway because we had already paid $100 to reserve a table.

The marketing copy reads, “the forgotten side of India” and “provincial Indian cuisine.”

I like the concept, but the atmosphere of the restaurant is anything but “provincial.” I can smell the hedge fund money in it. This is the problem with Manhattan restaurants; because of the high rent, every dish has to be transformed into a high cuisine. A “provincial” culture cannot be introduced to Manhattan; it has to be appropriated.

I don’t like eating ramen in New York for the same reason. The whole culture around ramen is missing. It’s not meant to be a high cuisine served at a reserved table. The average price of ramen in Japan is $8. It’s about double that in New York. Even if the flavor is there, the soul is not.

I wanted to see the “provincial” culture from which Dhamaka’s dishes originated, so I searched on YouTube: beguni, paplet fry, ragda pattice, seekh, and pulao. They appear to be popular street foods. I have to wonder: what percentage of the customers at Dhamaka would buy these foods from the vendors who inspired Dhamaka?

We all want to be loved for who we are as a whole, not sold for desirable parts. We do not want to be a beautiful woman who is told to keep her mouth shut, or a man who is abandoned as soon as he goes broke. A food too has many aspects inseparable from the culture that gave birth to it. Stripping one aspect of it from the rest is like visiting an Eiffel Tower in a theme park and thinking that you learned something about French culture.

Unfortunately, money has this effect of separating us from what is real. Everything moves in one direction: safer, cleaner, easier, prettier, more predictable, and more comfortable. It turns our world into a theme park and us into mascots.