Monday, February 8, 2010

Citizen Restaurant, Indian Food, and Culinary Prestige

Reading Vicki L. Ruiz’s article “Citizen Restaurant,” I was reminded of an interview with Krishnendu Ray, a professor of food studies at NYU, entitled “Can Indian food conquer America?,” regarding the potential for Indian food to break into mainstream American food culture. Ray argues that “when immigrants come into the country in large numbers, their food first becomes visible in the ghettos, then outside of the ghetto, but they don’t become popular to the larger non-insider audience until … the ghetto has disappeared.” Thus, Mexican food remains mired in the “ghetto” because many Mexican immigrants and Mexican-Americans remain poor. Conversely, Italian food has risen to a level of prestige as Italian-Americans have risen in stature from primarily poor immigrants to the middle class.

Ray sees Indian food as having the potential to reach both the prestige and popularity of Italian food, largely because many Indian immigrants to the US are middle-class professionals. This gives Indian food a jumpstart out of the culinary ghetto. However, “preference for another’s cuisine does not necessarily translate into egalitarian attitudes or even empathy” (6) according to Ruiz. I see possible sources of backlash against Indian food that might confine it to a less-prestigious, though ubiquitous, position, similar to that of Mexican food. First, as Ray notes that there are many Indians in “less professional fields.” Additionally, in an uncertain economy, Americans who fear losing their jobs to people half a world away may resist adopting the cuisine of that culture. Just as some view Mexicans and Mexican-Americans as unwelcome usurpers, helping confine Mexican cuisine to low prestige, so may some see Indians and Indian-Americans in a similar light.

[The full interview is from Can Indian food conquer America? by Thomas Rogers (, 1/10/2010).]

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