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Updated: May 14, 2010 17:04 IST

A bridge of tastes

Shalini Shah
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Caroline Rowe
Caroline Rowe

Caroline Rowe sees food as a window to cultures

When we got in touch with PR consultant and food blogger Caroline Rowe, she had just come back from Nagaland, where she was researching its fermented food and beverages. Her journey from the U.K., where she hails from, to India has been a long one, and flavourful.

A student of Modern History at Oxford University, Caroline boarded the flight to China after a stint at JP Morgan in London. “I decided it was too early to settle down to a normal U.K. life,” she says.

Six years passed in Shanghai and, after a stopover in California, Asia beckoned again.

“I was involved in the opening of many of the city's greatest restaurants, had an e-newsletter that went out to 20,000 people, proofed the official government English-teaching textbooks now in use across the country, and wrote many a restaurant review, and many a chapter for guidebooks and articles on the city. It was a very packed time!” says Caroline recalling the Shanghai days. “I wanted to take the next step in my life, coming to India. I had been visiting India on holidays and business for many years, and felt that the time was right for me to make the move.”

With the last decade spent mostly away from home, Caroline feels a comparison between the U.K. and India is difficult. “I'm hardly qualified to talk on the U.K., having spent less time there in the last decade than the average South Delhi resident! However, if you ask me what I miss about the U.K., it's the ability to walk around. When I visit London I walk for hours, admiring the architecture, looking at people enjoying their lives,” she says.

Caroline's interest in food stems from its role in narrating cultures. “I enjoy talking about every aspect of food and cuisine, but mostly about using food as a window to a bigger forum; why does a vegetarian choose not to eat meat? What does it mean to do seva at the gurudwara or eat at a langar? What dishes do refugees choose to recreate in their new homes when they resettle? Food tells us a lot more about ourselves as a society than we can ever imagine,” Caroline says.

In progress is a book on one of the most global and, at the same time, local spices — pepper.

On what inspired the subject, she says, “Pepper is the world's most fascinating and important spice by a long way. It is integral in almost all of the world's major cuisines, and has shaped history in many ways. The quest for pepper led to the discovery of the Americas, it led to the formation of the first stocks and shares, it led to the creation of fortunes and the foundation of Empires. It's also a spice with a major role in everyday society, health and science even today.” She adds, “Even after studying pepper for over a year, I am still making new discoveries.”

Delhi's restaurant scene, though, doesn't excite her. “Delhi isn't my favourite place to eat in India. I prefer South Indian dishes,” she says. Caroline does, however enjoy her “early morning food safaris” to Old Delhi. On her blog one can see that reflected in colourful photographs of Old Delhi streets during Ramzan evenings.

Innovation is lacking, with fine dining in Delhi lagging behind London, San Francisco, Shanghai and even Mumbai, she opines. “A few small players are breaking this monotony, but I would love to see more.”