I’ll always remember the look on my friend’s face when I convinced her to change her Indian take out order. She was used to ordering the usual chicken tikka masala, raita, and naan. She loved her go-to order but I was trying to convince her to broaden her horizons. She comes from a Middle Eastern background and I thought she could use a push but we started with baby steps and I implored her to add on bhindi sabji.
Thankfully, she did, and she loved what she was trying. It filled me with such joy to know she was enjoying one of my all-time favourite dishes.
I quickly realized that I simply love when my loved ones love what I love, especially when it includes a part of my culture.
That’s probably why I’ve been so drawn to the recent TikTok trend of people trying Indian food.
Let me break it down for you: Basically, non-Indian people order from their local Indian restaurants and take part in an abridged mukbang (a video of someone eating a large amount of food) for their followers.
The TikTokers taking part in the trend usually order the same thing, which is pretty similar to what my friend used to order for herself: butter chicken (or chicken tikka masala), vegetable samosas, garlic naan and often topped off with a mango lassi.
Though it’s a pretty basic order, you can’t go wrong with any of those items. They’re classics for a reason— and almost everyone who tries the cuisine for the first time seems to fall in love instantly.
The videos often come across as somewhat goofy—nobody knows how to pronounce anything, some people don’t know where to dip what, and there’s often a look of intrigued confusion.
But once that goofiness subsides and that first bite is taken, you see the flavor explosion being experienced and immediately the video becomes feel-good content.
I don’t know what it is about seeing others enjoy the food that I’ve loved my whole life—but it feels so wholesome.
It feels weird to call the act of trying a new cultural cuisine a “trend” but it’s exactly what these videos have turned into. There are countless videos on the app of people doing ASMR bites into veggie samosas and slurping their mango lassis. While it’s odd, I personally have been loving it .
It evokes that same feeling I had when I had my friend try bhindi sabji, or the feeling of when my other non-South Asian friends ask me if my mom has made her delicious kheer, because they can’t wait to devour it.
It is nice to see others try these flavours and spices with no other understanding of Indian cuisine and to acknowledge that this food is in fact bomb as fuck.
Some brown TikTokers have pointed out how cringe some of these videos can be but there is still something adorable about people not knowing that you eat butter chicken with either rice or naan and not together.
Suffice to say, I love watching these videos and as I think more about it, a part of me wonders if it’s because for so long, Indian food did not get the love it deserved. Quite the contrary, actually.
In fact, for so long, it felt that Indian food got made fun of more than it was enjoyed.
I’ve heard so many people in my days say that Indian flavours, “taste good but don’t smell good.” I get it, our spices are intense and if your mom is making tadka, you better open all the windows and run out of the house, but beyond that, our flavours and smells are equally as appetizing.
At least, I have always felt that way.
And these insulting narratives are not just offensive comments I have personally heard from others, it also exists in pop culture. A scene from How I Met Your Mother shows Barney, played by Neil Patrick Harris, grouping together Indian food, Chinese food and Mexican food as he disgustingly dismisses those as options of where they should order from.
A scene from Gilmore Girls has also been making rounds on TikTok. Rory, played by Alexis Bledel, orders Indian food to which two separate people comment that she will need to burn her house down to get rid of the smell. A little harsh, don’t you think?
It seems that when people simply don’t understand a cuisine, and they don’t understand the culture behind it, what often ensues can end up being harmful or offensive.
It’s like when food critic Gene Weingarten created an article talking about the foods he didn’t like in an article with the Washington Post in Aug 2021. The critic stated that Indian food is one of the only cuisines in the world made up of one spice, which will always seem like the weirdest, non-fact checked statement to make.
It was comforting after Weingarten’s article to see so many people come out to support the Indian culture and all our flavours because as it turns out, most of the world knows that Indian food simply slaps.
Unfortunately this was not the end of people expressing their unwelcomed opinions. With this recent TikTok trend, there have inevitably been people trying the food and not liking what they try.
Now, it is not illegal to dislike certain foods. Some people just have really boring taste palettes. But there does pose a difference between not liking a food and being disrespectful.
One user in particular posted a video of himself with a sad, crying face with the caption: “Me forcing myself to eat this nasty ass Indian food after paying $21.50 for it listening to social media.”
While it could have easily been not the greatest restaurant he ordered from and he’s entitled to dislike the food, calling it “nasty ass Indian food,” does not seem like the most polite way one can phrase something.
Comments like these tend to generalize entire cuisines, making it seem as if the food in general is nasty—as if Indian food isn’t worth the money. The TikToker later clarified in his comment section that the restaurant he purchased the food from was not highly rated. But the initial text is what you see first and what stings the most.
The problem is, when talking about cultural cuisine, there should be a sense of understanding of what it means to people. For so many communities, food is more than just food; food is an expression of identity. Not being sensitive about how you comment on another culture can easily come off as a way to insult that very culture and therefore insult the identity of many people who belong to said culture.
Many ethnic cuisines have been victim to this same distasteful commentary. It reminds me of many people making a trend out of eating the Filipino delicacy balut, a fertilized duck egg. Once eating this became a trend on TikTok, the idea of a fertilized duck egg came with many unwarranted opinions in the comment section while for many this is just another run-of-the-mill dish.
The question is then posed: should we be making trends out of cultural cuisines in the first place?
While it’s a sticky situation, I think it is really wonderful to see people indulging in and loving different cuisines they have never tried before. It’s amazing to see how this part of cultural identities can reach so many different groups of people.
With that being said, maybe we think about how it is that we review these foods. Maybe we preface the TikTok with, “my flavour palette is not incredibly expansive and this food is new to me,” or if your reaction is one of overwhelming disgust, perhaps we acknowledge that our platforms on social media are much wider than we know, and that some of the things we say do reach far and wide.
For now, I will continue to giggle happily at these awkward videos of people eating butter chicken.
It’s been my little source of joy and as long as it’s respectful, there will be joy.
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