I’ve just had my version of a hot curry. Now, every single Indian friend of mine just fell off their chair laughing. My Bangladeshi friend I am sure is rolling on the floor. Because honestly, their reaction to it would probably be something like: “Be quite tasty if it had any chili in it.” Or “Bit mild.”
Of course for me, that was sweaty forehead, and under my eyes beading with it, burning lips and the thought that I ought to put a roll of toilet paper in the freezer for later.
In no small part… it is what you are used to. The chili pepper was native to Mexico. It’s not something the Indians were used to… once. But they have made it their own, and added their regional variant to it, making the food they add this foreign spice to very much characteristic of their culture and their cuisine. To them it very much part of what they are. Oddly, it seems expat Indians end up eating even hotter curries than those eaten in the country – fascinating in itself.
This is something millions of non-Indian folk across the world appreciate too. Now-a-days you’ll find many families who are neither culturally nor genetically Indian who have grown up eating curries. Many of them will be very knowledgeable about what a good curry ought to be, and some of them will even prepare it with strict adherence to the methods that good cooks in the Indian subcontinent use, and go to great lengths to get the right ingredients.
Of course: if we’re going to get puerile and talk ‘cultural appropriation’ – it’s worth reminding people that the key ingredient came from Mexico. And, if you bother to start researching many of the other much beloved ingredients – they, as often as not had their origins elsewhere. This is as much part of being human as following these silly fads is. Whenever you look at any so-called cultural appropriation, you’ll find the xyz people actually adopted chunks of that culture from… someone else, and changed it a little to suit themselves. That’s as natural to humans as farting. Some people may do it less than others, but we all do it.
Curry and the world-wide spread of curries, has mostly been a win for the species, outside of the ill-judged dodgy vindaloo eaten after sixteen pints of lager.
Now looking at this from a writer/reader perspective: readers are remarkably like a people (or an individual like me) learning to love a good curry… you have to start them gentle, and quite possibly get them used to reading and enjoying doing so from an early age – generationally seems to work as well for reading as curry. A child who comes from a non-reading family will struggle with material that kid who has had books read to them in the cradle will find simplistic. Of course the same holds true of genre: it’s why people who don’t read sf think someone like Atwood good, whereas most hardened sf readers roll their eyes. I don’t know the American equivalent (here it would be Keens), but it is rather western stew made with a teaspoon of tinned curry powder. It’s not curry really. Or rather it is literary fiction with a little sf –as a premade add in, by someone who produces stuff that sf readers would not use. Some people will move from this to experimenting with the real thing. But, like so many families of yesteryear, all they will eat is this pale imitation.
From the writer’s point of view, the entry dish is sf/fantasy that you can enjoy if you’re a sf reader, (the tropes are right, the style is right, but it’s heavily grounded in stuff that ain’t particularly hard to get your head around if you’ve never done more that watch Starwars. Much Urban fantasy fits this, and near-present sf. (it does a good job, and is of value, not only in itself, but as an entry-point. From there, readers ‘get’ the tropes, the format, the underlying concepts true to so much sf, the style etc. They may never read any other type – all well and good – but for a lot of readers it is a gateway (and, naturally good sellers). You throw the non-sf/fantasy reader in at Gene Wolfe or Robert Forward’s Flight of the Dragonfly, and you’re going to lose a lot…
But really, what curry has to teach all of us is that 1) Great curry starts with good ingredients, some exotic, some as ordinary as onions. 2)There is difference between a curry where you have roasted and ground your own spices or used a spoon of garam masala. If it is good masala and you’re not too good about balancing your spices, the masala can be better. It’ll make a good curry, if not a great one. 3) Curry takes time and is all about balance. Balancing spice, and sweet, sour, and salt. Getting them to meld and build on each other. And getting that balance right brings more than just the sum of their parts. The problem I find with so much of the newest generation of trad published sf/fantasy is that so much of it is a chase after more chili. All I get is chili. The rest is bog-standard stew, and no other spices.