heila Dhar, who wrote some fascinating essays on cooking, loved talking of the first time she made mutton for her husband. She spent all day grinding quantities of masalas, the way she remembered from her childhood. Delhi’s Mathur Kayasths are renowned gourmets and she knew she couldn’t go wrong following a family recipe. Dinnertime came. Shy and proud, she placed the dish before her new husband, a Kashmiri Pandit. He took a look at the thick gravy coating the meat and asked her: "Yeh kya keechar hai?
(What’s this sludge?)."
A possible explanation for this deflating response can be derived from this book. Kashmiris have a unique cuisine, relying on the discreet charms of fennel, ginger and asafoetida. Hence Professor Dhar’s bewilderment: it mirrors the confusions common to cross-cultural encounters across India that would be hard to imagine in countries less diverse. My mother-in-law, a Punjabi vegetarian, once asked me hesitantly, fearing to offend: Was it true Bengalis ate not only the flesh of the fish but also its head...