Hipsters like to consider themselves right at the cutting edge of Britain’s food scene. From kale to birch sap, they know the latest, most modish foodstuffs and will be stuffing them into everything with as much vigour as the male specimens groom their carefully-cultivated facial fur.
But, just like the styles hackneyed hipsters claim as their own inventions, not much is new. The vast majority of the ingredients and techniques that get those trendy types all abuzz have been relished by various global cuisines and cultures since way before these kids were a twinkle in their parents’ eyes.
For centuries, many Indians have been quietly enjoying the kind of culinary existences that would make a hipster turn as green with envy as his raw-pressed chlorophyll detox smoothie, for a fraction of the cost – without any of the indignity of purchasing gourmet gimmicks whose very brand names make you die a little inside every time you’re forced to utter them to a bored sales assistant in a glossy food emporium.
Johnny-come-lately foodie hipsters, roll up your yoga mats and get on your fold-up bikes. India’s long been bang-on-trend with the incredible edibles you’re banging on about…
Going against the grain
Of course plain old pasta and white rice won’t do – hipsters eat only ancient, unprocessed grains like cavemen before them, particularly if Paleo is their schtick. During Hindu fasts, ‘true’ grains are off the menu – leaving tapioca (sabudana), buckwheat (kuttu), various types of millet (including samo and ragi), foxnuts (phool makana), and amaranth (rajgira) to step into the spotlight; whether eaten whole, puffed into popcorn-like snacks, or milled into flours and used in batters and breads. Forget nirvana – a Hindu fast is hipster heaven.
It’s a rare hipster who doesn’t start the day with some sort of ecstasy-promoting elixir. If they’re into yoga and all things ayurvedic, they might even have consumed chywanaprash (although whether they can pronounce it is another matter – Pukka Herbs avoided the issue by renaming theirs, as above). Even a scanty spoonful of this jam-like, rich mix will set anyone up for what the day throws their way; comprising goodies like ghee, jaggery, exotic fruits, and a host of herbs and spices.
Strange fruit (and veg)
You could head for a health store and spend pounds on a few out-of-season sprigs of premium-priced arrowhead spinach or red amaranth, or you could spend pence on pounds of the very same stuff in a South Asian shop. The situation is the same with all sorts of weird and wonderful pumpkins and gourds, fabulously earthy flat beans, insanely aromatic citrus fruits, and endless other exotica that will make your produce-packed wicker basket the envy of all your jute tote-toting compatriots.
Read my guide to Indian vegetables here
Pulse-ing with health
Hipsters are often full of beans, as you might find to your peril should you share space with a few too many a few hours after lunchtime. What they don’t know is that Indian cuisines have had their fingers firmly on the pulses for aeons; lobbing legumes into everything from crunchy snack mixes, to spongy steamed snacks, to soothing dals containing up to five varieties. And those hyper-trendy mixed sprout salads? A regular on Indian hotel buffets since time immemorial.
We all know white sugar is a newly-assigned Class A drug in the Western world. South Asians suffer a higher rate of Type 2 diabetes than other ethnic groups, and a popular perception is that jaggery a better option for blood sugar. However true you think this is, the date- or coconut-palm product is great source of multiple micronutrients. With its rich, fudgelike flavour, it should soon be rubbing shoulders with other sweet forms of ‘hipster heroin’ like yacon syrup, agave, and stevia.
Should you show your lovely bunch of coconuts to a hipster, beware; they’ll not be shy of cold-pressing them into oil which will be whipped into fluffy ‘frosting’, beaten into Bulletproof Coffee, and slathered with gay abandon onto polystyrene-like rice cakes. Folks from Kerala and Goa are go just as nutty for this fine form of fat, which you’ll see slicked onto hair and skin, as well as dolloped into a Bounty-ous number of coconut oil-laced, delicious dishes – many of which you can read about here.
Bitter, not twisted
By enjoying (or enduring) that pre-prandial bitter Aperol spritz alongside a few green olives, you’re opening your appetite and stimulating your digestive juices in much the same manner as so many Indians before you. Bengalis, in particular, relish a bit of bitterness before a meal; classically enjoying an amuse-bouche of crisp-fried neem leaves. And, across the country, ingredients including methi and karela (the all-too aptly-named ‘bitter gourd’) are cherished for their purifying properties – read more about how here.
They may vend bathtub bitters and interesting infusions, but Dalston drinking dens are missing a trick. South Asian supermarkets stock all sorts of sharbat syrups ideal for adding to creative cocktails, from sandalwood to cardamom to rose. And, although floral and somewhat sweeter than Campari, classic cordial Rooh Afza perfectly emulates the former’s ruby red hue; its ingredients a similarly complex composite of herbs, flowers, fruits, veg, and roots.
The moral of this trend-led tale?
For all your essential hipster kit, your local Indian supermarket can sort you out. And has been doing so for more than the last five minutes that all those items have been en vogue and consequently in-basket.
Check back next week for yet more ways in which South Asian cooks and foodies are already so hip it hurts…
- To read my ultimate guide to Indian vegetables, click here
- To read about how coconut oil is used in South Asia, click here
- To read more about the many gems you can find in Indian supermarkets, click here
- To read about my Indian pickle picks, click here
- To read about how bitter foods are relished in Indian diets, click here
- To read about India’s fermented foods, click here
- To read about Indian cocktails and soft drinks, click here