Indian Gastrodiplomacy to Help Feed Perceptions of an Emergent India

Indian cuisine has always been an informal part of Indian public and cultural diplomacy; what is required today is a more focused use of gastrodiplomacy in its public diplomacy efforts.
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As an emergent India is asserting itself within the ever-evolving global power dynamic, India is having a vibrant discussion about public diplomacy and nation-branding, and how to engage in channels of public diplomacy as a means to project its emergence; now is the perfect time for India to start cooking up a gastrodiplomacy campaign.

Public diplomacy works to communicate culture and values to foreign publics; gastrodiplomacy uses culinary delights to appeal to global appetites, and thus helps raise a nation's brand awareness and reputation.

As this author previously noted in this fair site, Thailand was the first to engage in gastrodiplomacy as foreign policy, while South Korea and Taiwan have also been cooking up culinary diplomacy of late. Meanwhile, Malaysia has been conducting a dynamic Malaysian Kitchen for the World gastrodiplomacy campaign that has combines elements of culinary and cultural diplomacy by showcasing its cuisine and culture in nightmarkets set up in London, New York and Los Angeles.

Indian Gastrodiplomacy

India is a natural spot to conduct gastrodiplomacy ("Samosa Diplomacy"), as India's mark on global cuisine is profound. It was the quest for India's spice bounty flavored the European age of exploration and sent intrepid navigators sailing around the Cape of Good Hope to reach India's shores. As Shashi Tharoor noted, today in Great Britain -- the isle that once considered India to be her crown jewel -- Indian curry houses employ more workers in the UK than the iron, steel, coal and shipbuilding industries combined.

In an age of increasing obesity and heart disease in the West as related to Western diets, as well as diseases outbreaks like BSE, E. coli and salmonella that have plagued meat supplies, India's more healthy vegetarian diet could be a source of soft power for India. India would be wise to take the advice of Beatles legend and vegetarian enthusiast Paul McCartney, and declare an "International Vegetarian Day."

Yet so much of what passes for Indian food abroad stems from its northern Punjabi cuisine. India would be wise to start promoting the delicious and fresh cuisines that are found in its southern regions like the banana-leaf sadya thalis with its delectable coconut chutneys, idlys (lentil cakes) and vadas (donut fritters) or the rice and black lentil crepe dosa stuffed with masala potatoes and onions.

Meanwhile, India would be smart to promote the delicacies that are found at a more local level. Indian street food never seems to make its way to Western palates, which have sadly been missing out on the multitudes of dishes that local Indians savor. Also, it is culinary fare that is often a bit more posh and pricey. The hearty, cheap and delicious street food treats like chole (fiery chickpea curry) with puri (fried bread), aloo tikki (potato croquettes stuffed with spices and served with mint, tamarind and yogurt) and a multitude of various savory chaat snacks.

And what is dinner without dessert? Indian sweets like the immaculate barfi (condensed milk squares), kulfi (sweet, creamy traditional Indian ice cream) and the delectable gulab jamun (fried dough balls swimming in rosewater syrup) could all be after-dinner favorites for an Indian gastrodiplomacy campaign. Of course, such would go well with a cup of India's famous spiced tea -- the sweet, milky and gingery chai.

In Delhi, the Indian Ministry of Tourism -- in collaboration with a variety of other ministries and tourist boards, helps host the popular tourist destination Dilli Haat, a rural market-style center to showcase Indian crafts and cuisine from all across India's varied 28 states. Such efforts should be distilled into a traveling cultural diplomacy campaign sent abroad, much like the innovative Malaysian night market initiative, to bring wide-ranging examples of Indian cuisine and culture to wider global audiences. When culinary diplomacy is combined with cultural diplomacy, it is at its most successful as it engages all the senses.

Indian cuisine has always been an informal part of Indian public and cultural diplomacy; what is required today is a more focused use of gastrodiplomacy in its public diplomacy efforts. As India is conducting public diplomacy and cultural outreach campaigns, like the immaculate India Calling event in Los Angeles or the wildly successful Maximum India festival in Washington, DC, to introduce global audiences to the cultural reality of an emergent India, it is also time for India to engage in more robust gastrodiplomacy to raise the cultural awareness for all of India's cuisine heritage.

A gastrodiplomacy diplomacy campaign could help raise Indian brand awareness, spur tourism and introduce global diners to the authentic Indian palate. A bit of digestive diplomacy is just the dish to help pique global interest and appetites in the new India.

Paul Rockower is a gastronomist and graduate of the Master's of Public Diplomacy program at the University of Southern California. Rockower works as a Public Diplomacy Guru with INDIA Future of Change, an organization that conducts Indian public diplomacy and nation branding.

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