Sitting at a table and intimately discovering a cuisine while listening to people’s stories about food, culture and home is an experience like no other. Conversations on Food is one such dining exploration that was started by Bengalurean Flora Macaulay in 2020.
For Macaulay, the idea stemmed from the realisation that food is an important way of celebrating a community’s unique identity. By learning more about their cuisine, one can get a peek into their history and beliefs. With this thought in mind, Macaulay launched Conversations on Food as an online event just as people started scrambling to find ways to connect in a pandemic-stricken world. The event was all about engaging in conversations with people across the country about different cuisines and foods.
The core of the platform is simple: to explore food culture and heritage through personal experiences and bring people together over food. “I try to find people who are deeply involved in regional food culture or subcultures, and we speak about certain dishes to shine the light on some unique aspects of their cuisine,” Macaulay says. The dining experience is held once every three months at a venue that changes based on whom Macaulay collaborates with.
This year, Conversations on Food has become an offline event where people get to meet, taste and discuss food. This week, as the platform celebrates its third anniversary, they are hosting a special event, ‘At My Table: Tales and Flavours of Anglo-Indian Cuisine’ with culinary historian Bridget White-Kumar on September 30 in Koramangala, Bengaluru. White-Kumar authored the book, Anglo-Indian Cuisine-A Legacy of Flavours from the Past, which was published in 2017.
As an Anglo-Indian, White-Kumar has been on a quest to bring focus to diversity within the cuisine since her voluntary retirement as a bank employee a few years ago. Although she was always interested in food, documenting her community's cuisine was not on the agenda. The idea was seeded when she wrote a few recipes in a book for her daughter who was leaving India to study abroad. The recipe book became an instant hit and a go-to among her friends. “I realised that many of these recipes would probably disappear if they were not recorded,” White-Kumar says.
This week, White-Kumar and McCaulay are inviting people to sit, eat,and engage in conversation with them about Anglo-Indian cuisine, the origin stories of different dishes and flavours, the diverse styles of cooking, and culinary traditions.
“Many people don’t even know our community exists. The food we make is the taste of India as we use Indian ingredients and spices, but the difference lies in how we use them. Interestingly, two different streams of colonial Anglo-Indian food came into existence during the British Raj. One was created by khansamas and bawarchis, who added an Indian twist to British dishes; and another emerged during the Bombay and Madras presidencies where local dishes were mellowed to suit the British palate,” explains White-Kumar.
Some of the most common dishes, that one might come across in the UK, are part of the Anglo-Indian cuisine. For instance, take Vindaloo, a legacy of the Portuguese. During the British Raj, the Portuguese didn’t land in Goa first, they went to Kerala, travelled to Kolkata and then journeyed to Goa, White-Kumar says.
“Wherever they went, they introduced their unique way of preserving food. Vindaloo is made with garlic and vinegar which was a way of preserving food in the past. They had to preserve the meat of a slaughtered pig for months and this was one way. Most of the sour food, which is part of the Anglo-Indian cuisine, has come from the Portuguese,” explains White-Kumar.
Vindaloo is also part of this week's menu. In the past, vindaloo was often prepared with pork but now chicken, potatoes and even brinjals are used, White-Kumar shares. The menu begins with two starters: colonial pepper chicken bites, where pepper will be the hero ingredient (which is not the case in most restaurants), and railway cutlets, which will be a nostalgic experience for many. A side dish, cauliflower foogath which is a tempered stir fry, will be another ode to the Portuguese influence.
Along with the chicken vindaloo, the main course will include a railway mutton curry and saffron coconut rice, wherein rice is simmered in coconut along with whole spices. The experience will end with White-Kumar’s comfort food, bread and milk custard pudding. “As a child when I needed a bit of comfort, my mother would add bits of bread and put it in a bowl with warm milk and sprinkle sugar and cinnamon powder. She would also make custard and add it to this,” White-Kumar says.
Through Conversations on Food, Macaulay wants to address misconceptions that lead to divisive voices and create communities that discover each other through food, culture and history. “In today's world, we all seem to be living such isolated lives. We engage with only those who are part of our communities. Food is a great medium to bring people together and understand each other through dishes influenced by a region and migration,” says Macaulay.
These menus are shining a light on dishes by different communities, such as Suriani Christians, which are not often found in mainstream restaurants. They are often limited to food festivals organised by big hotels. Meals organised by Conversations of Food make such culinary experiences accessible.
The lunch experience is between 12-2 pm on September 30 in Bengaluru. The cost per person is ₹950 for vegetarians and ₹1250 for non-vegetarians. To book your seat, contact @conversationsonfood on Instagram.