The proof is in the pudding… or the curry?

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Growing up Fijian-Indian (“Findian”) meant food was always the centrepiece of any family gathering.

The history of our people, which spans almost two centuries out of India, is mired by stories of brutality, hardship and suffering.

Yet in all the time Findians spent laboriously working the vast cane fields of a far-flung British colony, one aspect of our former lives in the sub-continent stayed alive and well.

Our food.

Whether its aloo-gobi, fresh chicken curry, Fiji-style dhal with rice or some delectably sweet kheer, gulab-jamun or halwa, the cuisine of Findians is a triumphant blending of the various cultures who have called (and continue to call) Fiji and India, home.

Findian cuisine is a celebration of Indian, Pacific and European culinary tastes, traditions and cultures, blended so effortlessly into one diverse menu of curries, soups, desserts and snacks that will sufficiently tantalise the senses all at once.

While some of the cuisine of India is defined along state, city, regional or district lines, the evolution of Indian food in Fiji is a rich testament to the continuity and adaptation of food to local tastes and conditions.

Findian people are of diverse origin. The ordinary person may have Tamil, Bengali, Awadhi, Gujarati or Punjabi heritage, and some who have Fijian, European or other Pacific Islander ancestry.

It’s not uncommon in Fiji today for people of diverse backgrounds to feast on the food of one another. Indeed, Findian cuisine today is as much a symbol of the enduring unity that defines the tiny pacific country, at least contemporarily.

Food has a special power to unite people. It can be, and has been used in the past, as a platform for the diversification of interests as well as the development of bonded communities. Food has played an enormous role in bringing people and cultures together.

It does precisely that in Fiji, and acts as a bridge for our connection with the motherland while cementing our place in the Islands.

My own family has been enriched by the marriage of Italian, Fijian and European foods with our own and this has meant the cuisine has further evolved to new culinary heights. Why is this at all relevant to our discussion?

It is through our food (among other things, like our religion and customs) that has enabled the Findian community to keep a close relation with our ancestral home – India. There’s a saying in the community that has endured the test of time:

“You may take the Indian out of India, but can never take India out of the Indian”

This rings true for our people today, and our food continues to shine as an exemplar of how the diverse regions and cultures of a far-flung subcontinent, can mesh so naturally with the traditions of a tiny pacific island, half the world away, and yet still adapt to the culinary climate of Australia.

Food. It’s what brings us together.

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