Food for diplomacy

Binod Baral

Binod Baral

Food for diplomacy

We definitely need more marketing of restaurants, chefs, and places if they have stories to tell

Can you replace ‘sukuti’ with any spiced jerkin? or ‘sekuwa’ with kebab or ‘chatamari’ with ‘dosa’? Or ‘sel roti’ with one of the different doughnuts that’s available worldwide?

No, because sukuti, sekuwa, chatamari and selroti are part of our identity. But it seems like we are somehow unsuccessful in promoting our culinary uniqueness to the world. It’s hard to do that as Nepal is sandwiched between two gigantic countries which are rich in culture and food. These two giants, China and India, are already huge influencers in the culinary world. In this difficult context, a comparatively new concept called gastro diplomacy can be a soft power tool to enhance our brand recognition.

We can’t globalize our food until a citizen from another country knows our cuisine. This effect has to be felt in as many countries as possible. But the first challenge would always be to motivate and provide consumers with enough confidence to taste alien cuisines. Also, restaurant owners and investors, unaware of such cuisines, should be assured about the quality, presentation, and food safety.

Out of various entities that could play a crucial role in putting a cuisine on the global map, media always remains important. With their proper support and localization of every content they publish about what chefs present, any cuisine can surely reach a global audience.

A reality, though, is that only dreaming won’t take the food to the global market. And neither can one be too rigid about the authenticity of a dish if they wish to push it out to a larger global audience.

What if I say that ‘tikka masala’, ‘chicken madras’, and ‘vindaloo’ are not authentic Indian foods? What if I say that Thai curry is not an authentic Thai food? An important lesson to learn from them is the way these dishes have adapted to the local audience and attracted their attention to become their favorites.

Any dish needs to be innovatively modified, tweaked, and presented, while maintaining the integrity of its originality too. The dishes that adapt are the ones that reach a lot of bellies. If we compare a few cuisines of other countries to Nepal, spiced jerky can be replaced with sukuti, ‘tikka kebabs’ can be replaced with sekuwa, dosa can be replaced with chatamari, donuts can be replaced with selroti, and so on.

Let’s begin writing positive notes about cuisines following the current trends. Yes, we love our food but let’s find what other people want to hear? What is the current trend? Where is the market going? Food preferences could vary, from vegan diets and vegetarian dishes to Himalayan herbs, and food as medicine for a gluten-free diet.

Let’s try to follow the popular trends and demands of the consumers and adapt accordingly. An important remark to make here is that only chef-cooked foods aren’t the only foods available. Beer, Himalayan bottled water, and herbs, too, can be highlighted as a country’s brand and identity.

Gastro diplomacy doesn’t just talk about food. It begins right from the farm while choosing the ingredients required to prepare it. The cooking method and preparation techniques too are very crucial. Thus, Robata grill can be an important gastro diplomacy product. The usage of chopsticks, spoons, forks, knives, and locations that are chosen for a meal, the art of chewing food, drinking appropriate beverages to suit the dish, all of these add up to how a dish is perceived and presented. In other words, anything that is included from a farm until the food is served at the table can be covered under gastro diplomacy. But more concepts can be added to make farm-to-fork a better campaign.

A collaborative culinary work with foreign embassies is one of the greatest ways to promote our local cuisines, while ambassadors can be the messengers of our dishes. A food researcher communicating with the local communities to bring out fact-based stories to be told about the dishes can also be helpful.

If we are to develop the rural tourism sector in Nepal, its local food products—either new or based on a specific conception of heritage food— can play important promotional roles. It’s better to understand that tourism plays a vital role in the creation, preservation, and revival of cultural identity based on local food products and food heritage. Tourism increases the awareness of food heritage and strengthens local identity.

We definitely need more marketing of restaurants, chefs, and places if they have stories to tell. The focus should also be on the history and legacy attached to the cuisines they serve.

The most important thing, however, is food safety and hygiene. This needs to be incorporated in every dish that is being served. How about an open kitchen plan so that people can see and decide for themselves?

We need to invite and engage all chefs, government agencies, food and beverage media and food scientists to promote our food. Let us all find and utilize experts from around the globe to secure a better future by establishing a solid food identity.

The author is a London-based chef and head of research & development department and innovation kitchen at the World’s Best Gourmet Entertainment Group