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Making paneer grate again

5 May, 2018 11:25 AM
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On how a variation of Indian cottage cheese spawned a bitter online feud

It all began with a tweet from renowned chef Sanjeev Kapoor, where he shared a recipe of Malabar paneer, made by mixing paneer and coconut milk a few days ago. In the outrage-filled times we live in, the chef was roasted by netizens on Twitter, with many pointing out that Malabari Paneer does not exist and the actual version of the dish uses chicken or mutton, instead of paneer.

The fact that paneer, primarily used in North Indian vegetarian cuisine is alien to the culinary tastes of Kerala and the Malabar region was also pointed out. To get a sense of the latest food outrage that has rocked the internet, we checked with Bangaloreans on whether the outrage was legitimate.

At the Thalassery cafe, just off Kamanahalli Main Road, sales executive Ajeesh P polishes off a plate of piping hot pazhampori (banana fritters) and says, “Of course, the outrage was justified. South Indian dishes, especially in Kerala, are coconut based and do not use paneer. I have no issues with North Indian food and enjoy parathas and paneer, but I do not think it will go well with South Indian gravy.”

His friend, Vinayak nods. “I am against this paneerification of all dishes. Paneer cannot substitute meat in all cuisines. You cannot make up a new dish by removing the main ingredient and replacing it with paneer.”

This is a point that PR professional Saina Jayapal agrees with. “You should not mess around with traditional food. Paneer has never been part of Malayalee food culture. You would not put paneer and serve it on a pizza to Italians in Italy. It is a bit like cooking kadhi with meat and presenting it in the North.”

On the other hand, software professional Krishna P feels that the outrage is unwarranted. “ I think that food keeps on evolving and newer dishes do come along. All popular dishes that we enjoy in the Indian subcontinent, be it biryani or the numerous curries, the breads and rice, all of them taste different and use a host of ingredients. I would not probably eat a Malabari dish with paneer in it, but do not see the point of outraging over someone putting out a recipe. Food is deeply personal and must remain so. Unless someone forces you to eat a particular food item, there is no reason to complain.”

Kerala is not very parochial in its food choices. The Yemeni kuzhimanthi biryani or the eastern Mediterranean shawarma is popular in the State. So why has panner Malabari got so much bad press? “It may be because paneer is not used in Malayali dishes and does not have too many fans within Kerala,” says Aji Joseph, former chef at Ente Keralam who now runs a cafe in Halasuru. “My family does not eat paneer. In case of the kuzhimanthi or the shawarma, they made their way from West Asia and evolved into popular dishes in the State, unlike this dish, which seems to be an adaptation. I think that has made people a little unhappy.”


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