In my previous post on the same topic, I had speculated that tapioca could have been the staple diet of tribal Malayalis. Recently, I came across a propagandist paper written by a Malayali Christian that has details about various crops introduced by the Portuguese in India. Unlike the other content of the paper, I hope that is a fairly accurate account. Of course, tapioca is also one of those crops.
Change in dietary habits:
I read the hilarious studies that talk about how dietary changes affecting modern day Indian population because of so-called western influence. Probably, they have considered the food habits of Indians in early 20th century as something that has remained unchanged for couple of millenniums. Now, let us look into South Indian food habits of the last 500 years after the entry of Portuguese.
List of crops:
Let me list out the crops from South America that have been introduced by Portuguese.
1.Chillis: This is a wellknown import. I always wondered how widespread was the usage of black pepper, a native South Indian crop, that ensured a wholehearted adoption of this spice for that 'heat' or 'pungent' sensation. Nowadays, black pepper has very limited use in South Indian cuisine.
In my opinion, our cuisine might not be very hot 500 years back. I can understand usage of black pepper in non-vegetarian dishes but usage in vegetarian dishes sounds improbable. At least, some of such traditional dishes would have continued to the present day. But I hardly see any. But chile pepper is extensively used in vegetarian dishes. That being said, it appears our popular vegetables are not what they used to be 500 years back.
2. Beans: Another very popular family of vegetables is the Portuguese introduction.
3. Gourds: This is pure propaganda, I believe. Only South American candidate in this family is 'bottle gourd', I suppose. If this is true we have changed our side dishes completely in the last 500 years.
4. Ground nut: The most common oil in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh is extracted from this nut. I wonder what oil these two regions have used 500 years back. And what oil Tamils use?
... the rest of the plants include,
cashew, sapota, yams(popular), cacao, maize(this does have some popularity in North Karnataka), pappaya, guava, sunflower, bread fruit, sweet potato, passion fruit, anona species, pine apple, tobacco along with tapioca.
Non Portuguese introductions:
I think tomato, cauliflower and cabbage were also introduced in the last 500 years.
Then what are our own vegeatables, I mean for the last 2000-3000 years? lady's fingers, probably some of the gourds like bitter gourd*, ash gourd, ridge gourd and snake gourd, gherkin, cucumber, eggplant, few leafy vegetable and few beans like red gram, black gram, horse gram etc...Of course, rice has not been replaced as the preferred cereal grain though I think our ancestors were initially wheat eaters.
Overall, though there are popular old Indian vegetables still in our cuisine(when I started to write this post, I wanted to prove almost 80-90% of the vegetables were introduced in the last 500 years), there is a strong influence of the new world vegeatables in our present cuisine. In fact, only our non-vegetarian dishes have remained unchanged. I have not come across a new animal being added to our plate.
* Bitter gourd is one of the main reasons that I suspect 'gourds' might not be one of the Portuguese introductions. One of my favourite vegetables is also part of Tulu folklore. We Tuluvas have a saying 'kaMcala ittaMDa eMcala uNNOli'. I think explanation/translation needs little background of South Indian food presentation. People have this notion that if you are having a meal then you are having rice. Or rice is the maincourse. The purpose of all other dishes(vegetable or meat) is to enable easy and sensuous intake of rice. So, you can come across statement like "If you have pickle, that is enough. I can have my meal". That Tulu saying essentially says, if bitter gourd is there then you can have your meal.
I had a bitter dispute about sweet potato with one of the commenters of this blog. I came across this article that claims Polynesians found South America before anybody and introduced chicken there. Now the question is whether Polynesians sailed to India and introduced sweet potato and also whether they sailed to China and introduced peanut. Or is that just one of those studies?