Food!


A commenter below mentioned offhand how they didn’t like beef. Myself, I love beef. And growing up beef curry was something we ate a lot. Since we were Bengali we ate more fish and shrimp of course. I had assumed that among Muslims in the Indian subcontinent this would be common, least outside of Hindu-majority areas. But when I hit Google it seems “Bangladeshi beef curry” is one of the top hits.

Our of curiosity, is beef curry not eaten much among Muslims in Pakistan?

This brings me some confusion, and makes me wonder what else I don’t know. What’s the most curious or interesting aspect of regional Indian cuisine? For example, Lisa M. claims that a lot of classic Bengali food is actually from Odisha (chefs from that state went to work in Bengal).

Probably the strangest thing about Bengali food, aside from the copious usage of mustard oil, is many of us really love dried fish (shutki).

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20 Replies to “Food!”

  1. Wild wild wild speculation: Pakistan has more Steppe and hence pastoral roots than Bangladesh, and therefore livestock theft is a more serious issue for the economy.

    For instance, here is an article on livestock theft in Pakistan:

    https://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2014/04/facts-about-livestock-theft-in-punjab-pakistan.html

    See this article – (Pakistani) “Punjab ‘reinvigorates’ ban on female animal slaughter”: https://www.dawn.com/news/1199794

    I am not aware whether similar considerations apply to Bangladesh.

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      1. I was meaning to propose that as a speculative hypothesis towards an explanation for your question: “Our of curiosity, is beef curry not eaten much among Muslims in Pakistan?” (EDIT: in a relative sense versus Bangladesh, assuming there is indeed a difference in consumption of this sort.)

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        1. Some of these facts can be determined from reliable sources. Pakistan, unsurprisingly consumes 4.25x as much beef per capita as India (and just slightly less than Japan). https://beef2live.com/story-world-beef-consumption-per-capita-ranking-countries-0-111634 But, without good numbers for Bangladesh and Muslims in India, this doesn’t tell you too much, and it doesn’t get at regional variation within these countries either. This source suggests that per capita beef consumption in Bangladesh is 0.91 kg/year v. about 8.6 kg/year from Pakistan from the other source (but 6.71 kg/year from a comparable source https://www.statista.com/statistics/757358/pakistan-beef-consumption-per-capita/), 9.4 kg per year in Japan from the first source, and 1.8 kg/year in India from the first source (but the sources are probably not comparable since Bangladesh should be higher than India and another source say India is slightly lower than Bangladesh https://www.statista.com/statistics/826722/india-beef-and-veal-consumption/). In India: “Around 63.4 million Muslims consume beef/buffalo. That adds up to 40% of the total Muslim population. For Christians, this figure is around 26.5%. Although, less than 2% Hindus eat beef/buffalo, they are ranked second in absolute terms. More than 12.5 million Hindus consume it.” https://www.livemint.com/Politics/RhPVLUFmclIDWRIiSoTC7N/Who-are-the-beef-eaters-in-India.html

          This source has a nice chart of regional differences in meat consumption in India not limited to beef. https://www.google.com/search?sxsrf=ACYBGNTumS1mjyY7Uj6xajObjW09wyLp6A:1572199699026&q=beef+consumption+in+India&tbm=isch&source=univ&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjB9c2khL3lAhUQXa0KHSkXD5oQsAR6BAgGEAE&biw=1432&bih=708#imgrc=hvXKPoGxWIuU8M: this aligns with the regional distribution of vegetarians in India (a cultural fault line that doesn’t match some of the more commonly known regional divisions) https://www.google.com/search?sxsrf=ACYBGNTumS1mjyY7Uj6xajObjW09wyLp6A:1572199699026&q=beef+consumption+in+India&tbm=isch&source=univ&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjB9c2khL3lAhUQXa0KHSkXD5oQsAR6BAgGEAE&biw=1432&bih=708#imgrc=8_qxwIxhnXBSKM:

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  2. Jains find all of the anti-pork and anti-beef funny. I even had “woke” vegetarians and vegans lecture me unprompted in high school how my vegterarianess was inferior because I was raised with it and it was in some irrational reverence to god. Little do they know that Jainism is atheistic or at least argued to be non theistic and I was taught the same moral arguments they learned, only at a younger age and with a more sophisticated non violence theoretical framework.

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  3. I think beef eating is a Bengali thing overall. Outside of Kerala and Tamil Nadu perhaps Bengal is the only state in India where beef does not have the same taboo, and is consumed by Hindu Bengali as well. Its differs even from its neighboring states (Orissa,Assam and Bihar) in that aspect as well, where beef is taboo.

    “For example, Lisa M. claims that a lot of classic Bengali food is actually from Odisha (chefs from that state went to work in Bengal).”

    Having lived in Orissa for sometime, this is Oriya pet conspiracy theory where everything good has been taken by Bengal. This is a very common trope across East India where all the other surrounding ethnicity detest Bengalis for their high nosed behavior, and this is their subtle ways to get back at them.

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    1. ” Its differs even from its neighboring states (Orissa,Assam and Bihar) in that aspect as well, where beef is taboo.”

      Beef is not a taboo is assam. First time I ate beef was with a assamese friend. ( An assamese brahmin to be precise 🙂 ). And this was not in some islamicate city like old delhi or hyderabad, but in bombay. but that was almost 20 years ago. things have changed now i suppose. beef is not easily procurable now.

      “This is a very common trope across East India where all the other surrounding ethnicity detest Bengalis for their high nosed behavior”

      this is agree with. same assamese friend used to pour his heart out and explain how much they hate bengalis. and apparently they hate hindu bengalis much more than muslim ones. (apparently they can always bully muslim bengalis by laying the charge of being illegal immigrants, but not so with hindu bengalis).

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      1. “but that was almost 20 years ago. things have changed now i suppose. beef is not easily procurable now”

        Well its because the Marathi has become much more “N-Indian” than what they were 20 years ago.

        ” same assamese friend used to pour his heart out and explain how much they hate bengalis. and apparently they hate hindu bengalis much more than muslim ones”

        LOL, in a way the only thing stopping the Assamese going after the bengalis now is for some strange reason both the groups are somewhat under the same BJP umbrela (for now) and there has been ceasefire b/w those groups.

        The fate of Assamese Hindu Bengali is tied to the Hindu Bengali of Bengal(much like SL tamils is to Indian tamils) ,and till the Bengali of Bengal votes the BJP they would be safe , or else be dumped with the Assamese Bengali muslim.

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  4. OOT

    Out of Orissa Theory

    Punjabis do something similar, where we say a lot of North-Indian dress, cuisine, and even music actually came from Punjabis.

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    1. I think perhaps this is the reason why lot of Pak folks (even well meaning ones) got a bit of reality check when Indian movie stars started acting all nationalistic after Balakot or when they share space with Modi.

      They feel that Indian movie stars are “theirs” as well (so obviously they should dislike Modi and Indian nationalism as much as they do) , considering Bollywood is essentially North Indian movie Industry.

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      1. Well i think for the longest time Bollywood was the “friendlier” voice apart from Sunny paaji, and for them to turn so quickly , has made Pak folks confused.

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  5. Beef is not big in any Indian cuisines, even the meat heavy cuisines like Kashimiri, Hyderabadi or Awadhi. Signature biryani is the goat biryani and not beef biryani. All beef dishes are either buff based or a new addition to the cuisine.

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  6. Dry fish (shutki) is an eastern Bengal/Bangladeshi thing. West Bengalis detest it, and can’t stand the smell. Dry fish is also very popular in the northeastern states.
    I wouldn’t say beef is not taboo among Bengali Hindus. Bengali Hindu beef eaters are generally liberal atheists rebelling against such taboos. In the 1960s-80s, when the liberal elite was at the top of the social and political hierarchy, conservative Bengali Hindus could only voice their displeasure and not do much else. Now, with Hindutva forces on the rise even among Bengalis, more active steps are being taken to ensure that their beef eating brethren are denied their bhuna and steaks. Of course, the situation is far worse in North India.

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  7. I doubt Pakistan has the curries available in Bengal because Bengal is rice based whereas Pak should be wheat based other than biryani (which doesn’t require curries)

    In Kerala brown rice is popular which goes with a different set of dishes cooked in coconut oil

    Probably sri lanka, burma, & thailand should have some very good beef curries ?

    Kerala is famous for syrian beef fry, & beef cutlet
    Beef soup should be available in both Kerala & Tamilnadu

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  8. Dried fish (hokh-gāD) is also one of the peculiarities of Kashmiri food. Rather smelly but v tasty. And crunchy 🙂

    I first had beef in India, at the home of an (Indian) Jewish friend in Mumbai. It was ok-ish. I really don’t think any Indian (or otherwise) beef preparation come anywhere close to the French entrecôte (well-done and cut in strips) served with cafe de Paris sauce. *Nobody* does steak-frites like the French!

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  9. My favourite unusual aspect of Tamil cooking (at least I think it’s fairly unusual, although I’d bet Malayalies do the same) is using toasted lentils as part of the spice mix. Adds a nice crunchy texture to dry vegetable dishes.

    Goat meat is awesome, Razib, you’re missing out! Fresh Thyme (grocery chain near me) sells really good ground goat that isn’t gamey at all. Dried fish in my experience is pretty great too.

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