• Rotis are the hipster food waiting to happen. (Getty Images )
It feels strange to see so much of the South Asian foods I grew up with re-appropriated as overpriced hipster 'superfoods'.
By
Sarah Malik

15 May 2019 - 8:17 AM  UPDATED 22 May 2019 - 3:03 PM

It's year eight and I am in English class. It's sweltering hot and I have a white bread shami kebab sandwich in my bag that is starting to melt, its pungent aroma leaking into my classroom.

It's a public school in western Sydney and the class is full of kids who have never seen let alone smelt a shami kebab before (a shami kebab is a kind of circular shredded spiced meat kebab that is fried in egg.) 

One kid yells: 'What's that pong?" 

The class erupts like a pack of predators on a hunt, with kids slamming open windows and sniffing around for the culprit. 

I sit frozen in my chair, praying my melted kebab sandwich is not discovered. It's ten minutes to bell-time but the minutes tick on painfully, almost in slow motion.

Finally just as someone sniffs near me, the bell rings mercifully, releasing me from the grip of cackling teen hyenas.

This experience sets my fraught relationship with desi things in public. The masalas and kebabs and hot rotis and eating with the hands I do at home, I keep a hidden secret. I study the lunches around me  - vegemite, very haram devon and cheese, meat pies and sausage rolls. They are all foods as exotic and strange to me as shami kebabs must have been to my fellow students.

I try to replicate them using halal salami and mayonnaise. I buy fish and chips at the beach. I avoid looking like a desi alcoholic, with a chai thermos flask (almost mandatory for South Asian picnics), and instead buy coffee in a shiny plastic cup. I learn to use a knife and fork expertly. I am paranoid about smell. When everyone else is ordering butter chicken, I buy salads. 

It feels strange to see then so much of the South Asian practices and foods I grew up with re-appropriated as cool, overpriced hipster 'superfoods' sold in the expensive cafes of Newtown and Surry Hills.

The coconut oil I was told was greasy and gross is now sold by beauty Instagrammers and multinationals.

From coconut oil, masala chai, turmeric lattes, dahl and vegan curries, you name it, South Asian food and treatments are today sold as the Eastern magic that will cure all that ails you. 

On the one hand, it's great to see the colours of your world celebrated. But it is also strangely uncomfortable to see familiar things with unfamiliar reboots. The sting I experienced as a teen being ridiculed still lingers. To see those very things that were the cause of your misery now happily consumed (and profited from) by the people who look the same as the ones who made fun of you can feel jarring.

The coconut oil I was told was greasy and gross is now sold by beauty Instagrammers and multinationals. I sip my turmeric latte tentatively, wondering if I'm doing it right.

So this begs the question - what about the original hipsters? The desi families making all this delectable home-made, organic food and beauty excellence from scratch? What are they eating right now? It makes sense to go through the family fridge to hypothesise the future hipster trends and get ahead of the trend.

Here are my predictions:  

Roti 

Roti is a desi family essential. The homemade wholemeal flour is kneaded with water and salt and made into circular bread to be baked on a skillet and eaten piping hot with curry. Homemade? Wholemeal? Skillet? It's a Newtown pop-up just waiting to be exploited. Instead of a curry accompaniment, I predict this will used with jam, butter, chocolate and banana, or even Australianified with sausages and tomato sauce. Fusion roti sausage anyone? 

Achar 

The homemade pickle is an essential part of a high-level desi fridge. It's highly pungent, with a smell that never leaves your fingers. Cauliflower and green mango is cut up with oil and spices and allowed to ferment, forming a delicious pickle that resembles kimchi. I predict this could be huge with 18-30 year olds currently enjoying the shredded faux 'pulled pork' jackfruit revival or the above 'fusion roti sausage'. 

Chutney  

There is no more powerful arsenal in the desi condiment game than chutney. The classic fresh garden coriander, chillis, spices and salt are food processed in a concoction that is a perfect accompaniment for a shami kebab or samosa on the run. Tamarind, date or red chilli and mint versions are form part of the chutney mosaic. It sounds like a t-shirt slogan but it's true - everything just tastes better with chutney.

Some people have grand ambitions. My humble dream? One day chutney becomes as ubiquitous as salt and pepper in restaurants, and the question, 'Would you like pepper with your steak?' comes with appropriate chutney qualifiers.

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