For those of us who were lucky enough to stay safe at home, food was one of our few comforts. It was also our favourite topic of idle conversation, passionate debate and raging rows on social media. Friendships were formed over shared recipes and loyalties were tested over food experiments gone wrong. Here’s a look at 2020, through all the food that we cooked and ate, and the dishes we bonded and fought over:
Poha: In January, BJP leader Kailash Vijayvargiya kicked off a row when he said that he suspected the labourers carrying out construction work at his house of being Bangladeshis, as they ate “only poha”. Defenders of poha around India rose up as one at what they saw an attempt to “other” one of the most widely-consumed staples in the country.
Samosa: In February, a broccoli and corn-filled samosa that was served during US President Donald Trump’s visit to India fed social media outrage. Lovers of the deep-fried snack were aghast that samosa’s potato and pea filling should have been tampered with at all, while the honoured guest himself simply ignored the food. Later in the year, when the nationwide lockdown was in effect, the samosa played a starring role in the post-COVID fantasies of many who missed their regular dose of streetside snacks.
Paneer, cake and jalebis: The period from March to June, when everyone was forced to stay indoors, showed how to stretch the limits of our capabilities at home. Besides the fact that most of the hospitality industry was shut for almost this entire period (except for food delivery services), trust in food cooked outside the home was at an all-time low and this is probably why, as Google’s ‘Year in Search’ shows, one of the most frequent queries was ‘How to make paneer’. Other top searches of the year include ‘how to make cake at home’ and ‘how to make jalebi’.
Dalgona coffee: Being forced to stay home also meant that people had a lot of time to experiment in their kitchens. There were some delightful results, such as the new interest in bread making, as well as quick and easy mug cakes and pressure cooker cakes. But the most viral food experiment of the year was the very attractive but very underwhelming dalgona coffee.
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Biryani and panipuri: According to Swiggy’s fifth annual StatEATstics report, chicken biryani retains its position as India’s favourite dish. In fact, a biryani – chicken, mutton, or veg – was ordered more than once every second, says the food delivery platform. Another of the most ordered foods of 2020 was pani puri – an indication of how much Indians missed street food, especially chaats.
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Parotta: How do you define a staple? This question was at the heart of the debate that erupted in July, when the Karnataka bench of the Appellate Authority of Advance Ruling (AAAR) said that packaged parotta would attract GST of 18 per cent, unlike packaged roti, which would have a lower GST of 5 per cent. The reasoning given was that while parotta is not ready-to-eat and has to be heated, unlike roti. But what set off the outrage on social media, with the hashtag #HandsOffParotta, was AAAR’s contention that parotta is “not a staple”, unlike roti. The GST classification was later deemed ‘void ab initio’ with the the AAAR stating that it 5 per cent GST would be levied on parotta as well.
Non-meat meat: In December, the Singapore Food Agency made history by green lighting the sale of lab-grown chicken, making it the first place in the world where cultured meat would be commercially available. The year had already been great for the burgeoning alternative protein industry – according to a Nielsen report from May, the sale of plant-based meats grew by 264 per cent in the US over a nine-week period that ended May 2. In fact, back in 2019, Barclays had predicted that alternative meat could capture 10 per cent of the $1.4-trillion global meat market over the next decade.
Pizza: In an already strange year, perhaps one of the strangest things to happen was the outrage over images of protesting farmers at Delhi’s borders eating pizza at a langar. Supporters of the government’s controversial farm bills – which is what the farmers are agitating against – used these images to question the identity of those protesting, alleging that “real farmers” wouldn’t be eating pizza. Most others, including the organisers of the pizza langar, pointed out that those who grew the wheat with which pizza base is made, had every right to eat whatever they wanted.