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  • Writer's pictureAkasha Usmani

More than chicken vindaloo and beer!

How good food binds Australia and India, not least at the iconic Indian restaurants in Australia.

The Gaylord restaurant in Melbourne is one of the famous Indian restaurants in Australia.

Indian cuisine has always been rich and diverse and varies according to the region. Factors like religion, culture, climate, soil, ethnic groups affect the Indian cuisine. The most popular part which also happens to be a specialty of Indian cuisine is- ‘the spices’. There are different types of spices that are used in India to enhance the flavor and not all “spices” are chilly hot as many would imagine. Some of the most popular Indian spices are turmeric (haldi), ginger (adrak), green cardamom (elaichi), black cardamom (kali elaichi), coriander (dhania), among others which add depth to the variety of flavours in the cuisine .

Food is the most common and oldest form of soft power across cultures. It serves as a positive factor in bringing together different cultures and strengthening people to people ties. When a country's culinary legacy is combined with its cuisine, it has the potential to attract the attention of the international community. Food is also a part of a country’s identity and culture and its influence is evident in the growing ties between India and Australia. Besides cricket, education and economy, cuisines from both the countries are also playing a huge role in strengthening their relationship. Though this phenomenon is not new, its often said the three C’s - Cricket, Curry and the Commonwealth have brought India and Australia together. However, the love for curry and Indian regional cuisine has grown over the years. The Indian cuisine is increasingly gaining popularity in Australia because of the growing Indian diaspora in the country that has carried its love for Indian food across continents making a significant contribution to Australia’s economic and cultural growth, which has also led to the strengthening of bilateral relations between the two countries.

India is Australia's tenth largest trading partner contributing to $25 billion in bilateral trade in 2021-22. Indian economic growth has been phenomenal, and as a result, trade links with other countries throughout the world have increased. The recent historic trade agreement - Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement (ECTA) between India and Australia will also open up new opportunities for both the countries. The agreement will provide for the elimination or reduction of tariffs on a wide variety of product exports.

One of Australia’s trade and investment initiatives is ‘The Australia India Business Exchange’ (AIBX), a platform to create investment relationships and facilitate commercial outcomes.

This has opened the door for premium Australian items to be exported to India. Kishwar Chowdhury, who appeared in the cooking reality show in Australia called MasterChef, was a part of AIBX exchange, she showcased to the Indian market how to make the best use of Australian premium produce. In an Interview, she also stated how using Australian premium produce in Indian recipes gives an altogether different feel to food and creates a luxury fine dining experience.

The Indian cuisine has been represented in various reality cooking shows. Some of the Indian chefs who have taken Indian food to this global platform are - Kishwar Chowdhury, finalist of MasterChef Australia, Season 13, who represented her Indian-Bangladeshi roots through her Bengali food. Depinder Chibber, who appeared in Season 13, brought authentic Indian dishes to the show preparing ancient Indian delicacies like Ghevar ( a dessert specialty of Rajasthan) with carrot sorbet, smoked lassi (buttermilk), and an Indian-style tiffin box filled with Indian delights when competing on MasterChef Australia. Currently she is working on compiling her own recipes for a cookbook and aims to create a small restaurant that highlights traditional Indian cuisine.

Australia provides a diverse range of Indian food through a host of India restaurants. For example - Moti Mahal an Indian Restaurant in Malvern, offers authentic Indian cuisine. The Gaylord in Melbourne is famous for dishing out authentic Indian cuisine. The Grand Pavilion, another restaurant located in Sydney, gives traditional Indian food a modern twist. Zaaffran in Sydney is famous for its authentic Indian curries. The popularity of Indian street food is also growing worldwide, especially in Australia where celebrity chef and MasterChef Australia participant, Sarah Todd, made the popular street food - bhelpuri (Indian snack made of puffed rice). Having gained recognition for her Indian cooking and she has opened two restaurants in India - Antares in Goa and the Wine Rack in Mumbai. Signalling the growing popularity of Indian street food locally called Chaat many restaurants have opened in Australia, namely- Chaat Junction in Enfield, Punjab Street Chaat Corner in Springvale, Delhi Streets in Melbourne among many others.

The Indian community in Australia has also made popular the famous Indian tea and Samosas (fried pastry with savory fillings) to the country. Sanjith Konda House, an Indian student who dropped out of his Bachelor in Business Administration degree at an Australian university to work as a "chaiwala" (tea-seller), started his start-up called “Dropout Chaiwala”, which has now turned into a million dollar company.

Similarly, Australian cuisine is also making its mark in India . There are many Australian food chains and businesses that have stepped in India such as Patissez Cafe in Chennai, India ; Paarma Raama in Hyderabad, an Australian restaurant which serves the best Australian Paarma ; The Coffee Club, an Australian coffee chain and many more. Also, A wide variety of Australian food products are now easily available in Indian stores.

Australian chef and a two time MasterChef Australia contestant, Michael Weldon, was on a tour to India as a part of the Australian Government’s Taste of Australia campaign. He presented Australian food with an Indian twist. He also created a special meal at a restaurant in New Delhi that was inspired by Australian and Indian flavors and went around traveling in India, tasting Indian street foods.

Food truly is the most important of soft powers in the modern world. It not only creates familiarity between two cultures but also builds people to people connect. With Indian and Australian cuisine growing in influence in both countries, its role in influencing bilateral relations cannot be ignored, not only in terms of appreciation of food but also creating business opportunities in both countries.

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