Forgotten Food: Culinary Memory, Local Heritage and Lost Agricultural Varieties in India

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sheffield
Department Name: History

Abstract

Based in the former princely capital of Rampur in north India, Tarana Khan is a local historian and novelist working to preserve her city's unique heritage linked to food, literature and culture. A former teacher, her motivation is the city's youth who retain a strong sense of their Rampuri heritage, even as it disappears around them. Recognizing the urgency, she began collecting oral histories from older residents known for their connections to the 'old world'. She also began exploring the famed Rampur Raza Library, with its rich and sizeable collection of Urdu and Persian manuscripts, for historic cookbooks. One Rampuri speciality, yakhni pulao - now cooked only to a basic recipe - appeared in fifty or more styles. Seeking to recreate these historic recipes, she worked with a khansama, or cook, from an old cheffing family to translate measures, procedures and ingredients into modern equivalents. A particular problem was the disappearance of older varieties of rice that had become extinct with the spread of high-yielding hybrid types. Their distinct aroma and taste remained alive only in the culinary memories of the older generation, who still yearn for tilak chandan and other small-grained local varieties previously grown in the rice-belt around Rampur.

Taking a lead from this 'local food hero', this partnership bridges the gap between culinary memory, local heritage and lost agricultural varieties. Bringing food historians, sociologists, literary scholars and plant scientists into dialogue with heritage practitioners, authors, cooks and street vendors, it addresses challenges linked to local communities and food sustainability in India through four main 'work packages':
1. recovery and analysis of historic cookbooks and other literatures relating to food and food cultures preserved in colonial, national, local and family collections in India, Pakistan and the UK.
2. recording oral history to enable culinary memories to be preserved in local cultural contexts with no written record.
3. commissioning a new anthology of creative writing on South Asian food and foodways to capture memories and ideas relating to such themes as family, domesticity, hospitality and food shortage.
4. growing heritage rice varieties in controlled-environment 'virtual rice paddies' protected from modern pathogens. Preferred characteristics may then be incorporated into plants that will survive and thrive in extreme environments, while also delivering high yields and nutrients required by an ever-expanding population.

The culmination of a funded-stage of the partnership will be the Rampur Food Festival. This two-day event hosted by project partner, the Rampur Raza Library, will focus on the cooking of heritage food to the recipes in Urdu and Persian manuscripts from the court of the Rampur Nawabs. Of particular note will be the use of heritage rice grown for the project to recover participants' emotional response in terms of appearance, taste and smell. In the late nineteenth century, the Rampur court was known for its patronage of an important cultural festival, the Jashn-e-Benazir, featuring poetry, music and, most significantly for our purposes, food. A distinctive feature of this event was the mixing of different social classes and communities in the shared space of bazaar culture. Building on this historic model in a contemporary context, the Rampur Food Festival will move heritage food from its 5* lodgings to street level, highlighting popularity and affordability to foster a means of livelihood for local cooks, street vendors and artisans. The festival will also showcase other partnership outputs, including a historic recipe collection making material from archival sources available to contemporary cooks and a documentary highlighting culinary memory through oral history.

Planned Impact

This research will impact on the wider Indian public in a number of ways:
-Culturally and Socially: By fostering awareness and popularising historic recipes linked to Muslim culinary heritage in India, this project will contribute to social cohesion and the mediating of difference between religious groups at a time of communal tension and violence fostered by government policy.
-Economically: By providing new means for livelihood to disadvantaged groups, including street vendors, artisans and musicians. Other economic benefits will come to local communities, like Rampur, through increasing tourism and promoting commercial activity around the production and consumption of heritage foods.
-Physically: Simple health remedies taken from historic cookbooks can also improve health and well-being among populations unwilling or unable to afford access to allopathic medicine. The development of new sustainable fortified rice varieties that are historically-rooted and culturally-appropriate will also have a major impact on hunger and malnutrition in India in the future.
 
Title Desi Delicacies: Food Writing from Muslim South Asia 
Description This book is divided into two halves - with the first featuring essays and the second featuring short stories. 
Type Of Art Creative Writing 
Year Produced 2021 
Impact This book has been featured and reviewed widely in the popular press, blogs and social media in India and elsewhere - as example: o Manasvi Jerath, '2 delectable books about South Asian culinary traditions that foodies will love,' eShe, 22 December 2020. o Latha Srinivasan, 'Come home to a whole meal' [an interview with editor Claire Chambers], The Hindu Business Line, 26 December 2020. o Farihah Choudhury's review. o Jaya's Blog, 4 Jan. 2021. o 'Cook to make time stop, to make time stop' [excerpt from Sarvath Hasin's chapter], MintLounge, 4 Jan. 2021 o 'Books of the Week', FirstPost, 12 Jan. 2021. o 'The kitchen's calling: Rahul Verma reviews 'Desi Delicacies: Food Writing from Muslim South Asia'', The Hindu, 16 Jan. 2021. o Sourish Bhattacharya, 'Into the Alimentary Tract of Muslim South Asia', The Daily Guardian, 16 Jan. 21. o Sahil Pradhan, 'Desi Delicacies: saparous', A Hindu's View: a book blog, 20 Jan. 21. o Claire Chambers, 'A Rich Helping of Food Writing', 3 Quarks Daily, 25 Jan. 21. o Annie Zaidi, 'Secret Recipes and Private Smiles', The Hindu, 30 Jan 21 [excerpt from her chapter] o 'South Asian Pasts in Books', Daily Star (Dhaka), 4 Feb. 2021. o 'Desi Delicacies: An Anthology of South Asian Food Culture', Dhaka Tribune, 18 Feb. 2021. • Some historic recipes included in the book have also been featured by chefs and restaurants, e.g. Chef Pinaki at Yantra, Singapore. 
URL https://www.panmacmillan.com/authors/claire-chambers/desi-delicacies/9789389104585
 
Title Jashn-e-Benazir 
Description A 16 minute recording of a rekhtigoi performance by performers Fauzia Dastangoi and Saneya. It draws on a 19th century narrative poem, Jashn-e-Benazir, to reflect on Rampur's food history and culture. The piece will be shared with an accompanying article via the project's Forgotten Food series in Scroll.in (July 2021) - to coincide with the publication of Razak Khan's edited edition of this poem in English translation (from Urdu). 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2021 
Impact It has yet to be released. 
URL https://drive.google.com/file/d/1qKmWAVE6o4j-Orym73teKy8YgWmKqD_i/view?usp=sharing
 
Description By fostering awareness and popularising historic recipes linked to Muslim culinary heritage in India, this project is contributing to social cohesion and the mediating of difference between religious groups. The reviews and discussions around Desi Delicacies: Food Writing in Muslim South Asia (PanMacmillan, 2021) and the project's 'Forgotten Food' series in Scroll.in point to this cultural and societal impact. As one blogger wrote (countering the partisan politics of Hindu nationalism and Muslim extremist groups that foster division between religious groups), 'it is "Desi" Delicacies and not anything else, because there is nothing more desi than this Muslim cuisine of India'. Other economic benefits will come (after the pandemic) to local communities, like Rampur, through increasing tourism and promoting commercial activity around the production and consumption of heritage foods. The project also uses food history to provide new means for livelihood to disadvantaged groups, including street vendors, artisans, performers and musicians - as exemplified by the rekhtigoi play co-created with local performers in Delhi. Additionally, the experiments with heritage rice are contributing to the development of new sustainable fortified rice varieties that are historically-rooted and culturally-appropriate. They will, potentially, have a major impact on hunger and malnutrition in India in the future.
First Year Of Impact 2020
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Creative Economy,Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Policy & public services

 
Description Project included in PRAXIS Report, 'Heritage for Global Challenges' (Feb 2021)
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
URL https://changingthestory.leeds.ac.uk/2021/02/09/praxis-publication-launch-heritage-for-global-challe...
 
Title Oral history interviews - Delhi 
Description PI Lambert-Hurley and Co-I Gupta have worked with researcher Farah Yameen in Delhi to collect a detailed set of oral interviews from 10 respondents on food practices, cultures and histories among non-ashraf Muslims (denoting their less elite social standing) in Delhi from different regional and occupational backgrounds. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2021 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact A co-produced academic article in a peer-reviewed journal is planned with researcher Farah Yameen to draw on this research dataset [submission to Oral History, July 2022]. Subsequently, the interviews will be made available for public access. 
 
Description Academic partnership (City Food Research Group, NYU) 
Organisation New York University
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution PI, Siobhan Lambert-Hurley, has worked with partner lead Krishnendu Ray to share expertise key to the project.
Collaborator Contribution Krishnendu Ray has offered expertise on the project as a whole. He has also facilitated the forthcoming publication: Debal Deb, 'Rice Cultures of Bengal,' Gastronomica 21.3 (August 2021).
Impact Outputs in progress.
Start Year 2019
 
Description Academic partnership (Culinaria Research Centre, University of Toronto) 
Organisation University of Toronto
Country Canada 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The PI, Siobhan Lambert-Hurley, has worked with partner lead, Jayeeta Sharma, to organise panels at academic conferences to showcase the project's research and oversee procurement of heritage rice seed. Together, they will also guest edit a special issue for Global Food History.
Collaborator Contribution Project lead Jayeeta Sharma worked with PI Lambert-Hurley to organise the following academic conference panels: "Eating In and Out of South Asia: Dynamic Histories of Food in Modernity," The 48th Annual Conference on South Asia, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 17-20 October 2019. "Cooking, Eating, Remembering: Dynamic Histories of Food, Culture and Place," The 26th European Conference on South Asian Studies, University of Vienna, 29 July-1 August 2020 [postponed to 2022 due to Covid restricitons]. Together, they are guest editing a special issue for Global Food History (2022). Sharma also assisted in procuring heritage rice seed and expertise from scientist Debal Deb at his Basudha Farm, Orissa.
Impact Most outputs are in progress.
Start Year 2019
 
Description Academic partnership (York University) 
Organisation University of York
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The PI, Siobhan Lambert-Hurley, has collaborated with partner lead Claire Chambers to edit the 'Forgotten Food' series in Scroll and oversee the publication of Desi Delicacies: Food Writing in Muslim South Asia (to which Lambert-Hurley also contributed an afterword).
Collaborator Contribution Project lead Claire Chambers contributed two articles to the 'Forgotten Food' series in Scroll and edited the series with PI Lambert-Hurley. She also edited Desi Delicacies: Food Writing in Muslim South Asia.
Impact Outputs include the full list of publications in the 'Forgotten Food' series and Claire Chambers' edited volume, Desi Delicacies: Food Writing from Muslim South Asia (all listed under publications).
Start Year 2019
 
Description Book event - Desi Delicacies (Ganga Jamuni Foundation) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A virtual event around project book, Desi Delicacies, organised by Ganga Jamuni Foundation on 23 Jan. 21. Attended by over 700 participants on Facebook Live and YouTube. A lively Q&A with 70+ comments in the chat function.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.facebook.com/gangajamuniheritage/videos/166217421934694/
 
Description Book event - Desi Delicacies (Karnavati University) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Students at Karnavati University attended a virtual event on project book, Desi Delicacies, on 7 Jan. 21. There was an active Q&A.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Book event - Desi Delicacies (Lahore Literary Festival) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A panel at the Lahore Literary Festival in which authors were in conversation with Raza Rumi. 765 views on YouTube by 9 Mar. 21. Followed by an active Q&A. The digital format enabled cross-border dialogue between India, Pakistan and the South Asian diaspora for which the Desi Delicacies session was held up as an exemplar (see 'Lahore Literary Festival's virtual edition amid COVID-19 crisis spurs cross-border exchange in absence of red tape', FirstPost, 18 Feb. 2021). The session also featured in 'Desi Delicacies: something for the palate, literally', Dawn (Karachi), 19 Feb. 21 and 'Lahore Literary Festival went virtual', The Daily Times (Lahore), 26 Feb. 21.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://youtu.be/vEAiJ4s951k
 
Description Book launch - Desi Delicacies 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact 69 members of the general public attended the live virtual launch event for project publication, Desi Delicacies. There was an active Q&A. As of 9/3/21, the recording on YouTube has been accessed 134 times.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Os4HpmLO_tg
 
Description Facebook Live (Tarana Khan on Rampur's Culinary Heritage) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Project consultant Tarana Khan's event on 'Rampur's Culinary Heritage' for Tawarikh Khwani on Facebook Live, 21 July 2020, received over 3000 views within a week.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.facebook.com/Tawarikhkhwani/videos/2382599905375744/?sfnsn+mo&d=n&vh=e
 
Description Initial meeting and stakeholder workshop, Allahabad, India 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Initial meeting and stakeholder workshop in Allahabad, India, in conjunction with Sanchaari Sanskritik Parv, 8-10 November 2019. The workshop was attended by two academic partners (PI and Co-I Gupta), three local heritage practitioners, one filmmaker, one chef and one researcher. The project also participated in local heritage festival, Sanchaari Sanskritik Parv, attended by over 100 members of the general public (including students), sparking questions and discussions.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Instagram Live (Tarana Khan and Rana Safvi on Eid) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Rana Safvi in conversation with Tarana Khan, 'Eid Past and Present' on Instagram Live, 23 May 2020.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Podcast (Naan Curry with Sadaf and Archit) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Project collaborator Sadaf Hussain shared his work connected to the project in two podcasts:
-Podcast: 'Naan Curry with Sadaf and Archit' - especially Ep. 13: Pakode, Samose aur kya tal rahai hai? and Ep. 14: Rice and Shine,
-Podcast: Paperback, Ep. 78: Sadaf Hussain.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://ivmpodcasts.com/naan-curry-episode-list/2020/10/19/ep-00-introduction-to-naan-curry
 
Description Workshop, 'Researching Food and Sustainability' 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact 'Researching Food and Sustainability' was an event organised by the PI, representing the Humanities Research Institute, with the Institute for Sustainable Food, University of Sheffield, 24 Jan 2020. It provided an opportunity for Humanities scholars to engage with scientists and professional practioners. PI Lambert-Hurley presented the project as an example of collaboration with heritage practioners.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020