ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Circuits of Authenticity

Parsi Food, Identity, and Globalisation in 21st Century Mumbai

Mumbai has the highest density of Parsis, who established some of the city's earliest restaurants and catering businesses. Parsi food has a prominent place in the cultural landscape of the city, and travel guides and reviews insist "authentic" Parsi cuisine is a part of the "Bombay experience." In a time of declining numbers and cultural changes brought about by globalisation, today's Parsi cuisine enables the construction and imagination of a Parsi identity where authenticity is redefi ned over time through circuits of different culinary endeavours.

This article is the outcome of one of the Krishna Raj Summer Fellowships awarded in 2014.

Food is an important marker of identity for any culture—its processing, preparation, and consumption being sites of multiple meanings. Levi-Strauss located food as a symbolic transition from Nature to Culture, with the process of cooking enabling this transition. The act of cooking has in itself acquired diacritical connotations of civilisation—distinguishing human from animal, civilised from barbarian, and more generally the Self from the Other (Levi-Strauss 1969). Goody (1982) and Khare (1976) demonstrate the various ways in which food becomes a powerful manifestation of ethnic identity, caste purity, gender difference, desire, abundance, and of the sanctity of domestic space.

However, as argued by Ferguson (2006), food can also be intrinsically individual, for its consumption is an individual act and its sensory experience and enjoyment is subject to varying individual tastes and demands. To become a mediator between the individual and society, food must be lifted from these material moorings and be placed in the realm of the symbolic. This requires two strategies—first, a formalisation of food, which involves a categorisation of acceptable and non-acceptable foods, “ideal” methods of preparation, and rules for social consumption of food (feasts, family gatherings, weddings, death rites, and so on). Second, it involves an intellectualisation and aestheticisation of food where it is associated with specific religious rituals, emotions, affects, and so on (Ferguson 2004).

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