The achievement of Kishwar Chowdhury in the Australian MasterChef competition is something that should be celebrated. No doubt, she is an inspiration to many, especially young women of, particularly, Bangladeshi origin. Seeing the real food that we eat at home being presented in such a way in the competition has brought pride in many of us, especially as very few outsiders hardly know anything about the kind of food we eat at home. Most outsiders probably think that our food consists of tandoori chicken, chicken tikka masala and so on.
However, there are problems in the way that many of us have reacted to Kishwar Chowdhury’s achievements.
First, some of us went as far as to suggest that Bangladeshi-owned Indian restaurants in the UK were doing something wrong by serving certain North Indian dishes, as they should be serving Bangladeshi food. I never understood this logic. Why should Bangladeshi-owned Indian restaurants serve Bangladeshi food? It’s like suggesting that Bangladeshi-owned pizza restaurants should serve kichuri and aloo bhorta, rather than pizza. It does not make any sense.
Second, taking pride in aloo/begun bhorta and pantha-bhat as traditional Bengali/Bangladeshi food, placed on a high international stage, creates its problem. Many of us get carried away with nationalistic sentiments and try to claim something as ours when it’s not. Borthas and Pantha Bhat are common food of people in many parts of India, especially in the rice belt.
Third, some of the proud reactions to Kishwar’s achievement lead to the development of a delusion that it would be easy to get the wider world to start eating traditional Bangladeshi food, which is similar to foods in many parts of India. I suspect it will take a long time to get others to love the taste of our home cooking just like we do, in the numbers necessary to run successful businesses. I am sure that creative cooks/chefs/entrepreneurs will be able to achieve some success in this regard if they were to spend their resources, creative and money.
As far as I can see, based on my experience and knowledge of the food business, I don’t think it will be easy to get a lot of loyal non-Bangladeshi customers to eat the kind of food that Kishwar cooked over and over again like western curry lovers. We Bangladeshis always eat tasty bhortas and kichuris at home and no doubt some of us will visit restaurants serving bhortas and pantha bhat, but the market will be restricted, so the prospect of wide popularity will remain a distant dream. Also, because other Indian regions will open similar restaurants with similar borthas and pantha baths, it will confuse outsiders about the authentic origin and root of these kind of food.
So, we should respect the traditional Indian restaurants that Bangladeshis have been running in places like the UK and innovate to complete with developing food culture.
One thing I think in Kishwar’s innovation that’s has no future is the malai pan. I think it’s something that looks rather unpleasant and may even be disgusting so won’t be trying. But I know there will be a few individuals who perhaps will enjoy it immediately or develop an acquired taste. But I cannot see how it can ever become something that people will crave and seek out places serving the malai pan.