Of Kebabs and Lawsuits: A Case for Authenti‘city’

By Sonakshi Srivastava

Authenticity is a reflexive term, its nature is to be deceptive about its nature.

— Carl Dahlhaus

There is an instance in Intizar Husain’s popular novel, Basti, where, while dining at the Shiraz, a restaurant in the newly created Pakistan, discussion ensues about the authenticity of the identity of the bread seller, Nuru. He boasts of being a ‘pure bred Ambala man’, an assertion that seems out of place to the people in the new land, prodding Karnaliya, a fellow diner to remark that ‘they have added Ambali to their names just for prestige. I’m the only one from Ambala! That’s why they can’t meet my eyes’. 

This discussion is particularly relevant in the novel for its layered connotations of identity, nostalgia, and nation/al boundaries in the face of the partition of the British India. And before one is quick to dismiss any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events, as purely coincidental with a click of the tongue, attention must be drawn to the Rupees 50-crore Tunday Kebab Lawsuit. The lawsuit is one glaring example that teases the boundaries of fact and fiction, and one which can be located in the familiar matrix of identity, authenticity and nostalgia as is the instance from the novel. 

Reel-y authentic glimpse of Tunday Kebabs. Credit: Sona Srivastava.

 

The bone of contention that resulted in the lawsuit was the use of the gastronomic nomenclature, ‘tunday’. In popular culinary imagination that cuts across the Indian subcontinent, tunday kebab is synonymous with Lucknow, the City of Nawabs. The story of the origin of the kebabs is almost mythic – dating back to 1905. The kebabs were the brainchild of the Bhopali rakabdar (gourmet chef), Haji Murad Ali, whose recipe of delicately minced lamb patties in 160 spices particularly appealed to the decadent palate of the then Nawab, Asaf-ud-Daula. When Haji Murad Ali fell off the roof of his house, he lost an arm. Yet he continued perfecting the mixture of shahi galawat, working expertly with one hand, so much so that the shahi galawat came to be known as tunday (adapted from the Urdu tunday, ‘without an arm’) kebabs.

The lawsuit, filed in 2014, was between Mohammed Usman of Tunday Kababi Pvt. Limited, the grandson of Murad Ali, and Mohammed Muslim, who ran a chain of restaurants under the name, ‘Lucknow Wale Tunday Kababi’. The judgement was declared in favour of Mohammed Usman. The judge noted that Mohammed Usman had maintained the original taste of the kebab for the past 90 years, and that he had the exclusive statutory right to use the Tunday Kababi trademark and logo, and that the use of the said trademark by any other entity without his consent or license would cause confusion as to the source or origin. Mohammed Muslim was found guilty of infringing on the trademark, and had to rename his outlets nationwide. 

Postmodern consumer culture has numbed us to the idea of the real, the authentic, with the excess proliferation of imitations. Regina Bendix notes that our quest for authenticity is particularly nostalgic, and is simultaneously modern and anti-modern.(1) It aspires to the ‘recovery of an essence’ in a time that is characteristically demythologized and disenchanted. The Tunday Kebab lawsuit serves as a prime example of this theory articulated in gastronomic anxiety, and the question of the authentic, the ‘recovery of an essence’ underpins it.

In the local memory, Lucknow and Tunday kebabs are inseparable. No mention of the city is possible without the mention of the food. It may be that the two draw authenticity from each other. Moreover, historicizing food by associating it with a particular place or a story aids in lending it a flavour of authenticity. To attempt to duplicate authenticity is nothing less than a gastronomic blasphemy, of which Mohammed Muslim was deemed guilty. 

It becomes significant to note that the judge considered historical parameters in his assessment of the case, tracing the genealogy of the kebabs before delivering the final verdict. The desire to maintain the sanctity of the kebabs, for them to remain firmly grounded in the place of their origin, and the home of their creator’s descendants, conveys an attempt to keep memories alive, at least gastronomically.

The lawsuit can be read as a nostalgic gesture for our times, where the spectre of imitations haunts us, and our only recourse is the law. Partaking of the trademarked, authentic kebabs is our restorative attempt to feed our nostalgic souls, an attempt at recovering a feeling of ‘essence’.


References

1. Regina Bendix, In Search of Authenticity (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2009), 319.

Pächter Torte

By Simon Newman

Mina Pächter’s recipe book. Credit: Stern and Pächter family papers, Collections of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

15 dkg Zucker (15 decagrams sugar)

Many of the recipes we use are filled with memories. I use pastry recipes that go back to my grandmother, probably even further. As I make them I remember her and my mother, I remember them making pies and tarts, and I remember our family eating them together. Many of my family memories, I realize, are centred around food.

15 dkg butter (15 decagrams butter

Mina Pächter scribbled this recipe down sometime in 1943 or 1944. It had been years since she had made this recipe, years since she had shared it with her family. And Mina knew that she would never again make chocolate hazelnut torte.

15 dkg ger. Haselnüsse (15 decagrams ground hazelnuts)

It is remarkable that this recipe survives. Mina wrote it down and included it with several dozen others that she and some other women wrote while incarcerated in Terezín. Also known as Theresienstadt, Terezín was in Bohemia and Moravia, a German-speaking region of Czechoslovakia. During its early years, the Nazis described it as a ‘model’ camp for European Jews they deemed worthy of special treatment. It was part ghetto, part concentration camp and, despite the Nazi propaganda, conditions were dire and few survived. 144,000 people were sent to Terezín: 33,000 died there, 88,000 were sent on to Auschwitz and only 19,000 survived.

10 dkg erweichte Schokolade (10 decagrams softened chocolate)

For as long as they could, the residents of Terezín tried hard to maintain some kind of life for themselves, teaching children, composing and performing music, painting, and writing poetry. But every day, people died and everyone was malnourished. Hunger was constant. Why would anyone who was surviving on watery vegetable soup and little else remember recipes for rich and wonderful food, let alone write them down?

Oder 2 Eßl. Cakau (or 2 tablespoons cocoa)

Mina and women in this and other camps did remember, and when they could procure paper and pencils or pens, they secretly recorded recipes. Survivors of the camps remember women talking amongst themselves, recalling and comparing recipes, sometimes even arguing about the best ways to create certain dishes.

Zitronenschale (lemon rind)

One survivor of Terezín and Auschwitz remembered that camp residents referred to these kinds of discussions as “cooking with the mouth.”(1) Remembering recipes and foodways was comforting, a reminder of family and culture.

3 Eßl. Starken schwarzen Kaffee (3 tablespoons strong black coffee)

Before she died, Mina entrusted the cookbook to a friend and made him promise that if he survived, he would pass it on to Mina’s daughter Anny, who was in Palestine. The manuscript changed hands several times, but almost a quarter-century after Mina’s death, it came to Anny, by then living in the United States.

2 ganze Eier (2 whole eggs)

For Mina, talking about and writing down her recipe for Pächter Torte was not just an exercise in memory, but a longing for the food of yesterday and the life and family it embodied. It was also preserving that memory for family in the future, an act of faith and hope enshrined in handwritten recipes.

2 Dotter (2 egg yolks)

Written on cheap paper in a faded pencil script, the recipe represented family, culture, and heritage. It allowed Anny to connect to her mother and to remember the foodways that had bound them together during her youth.

Warden ¼ Stunde lang fest gerührt (are stirred vigorously for 15 minutes)

Mina Pächter’s recipes are preserved in the collections of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. 

Dann den Schnee von den 2 Eiweiß (then [add] the snow from the two [stiffly beaten] egg whites

These recipes are evidence of gentle yet powerful resistance to the horrors of genocide. If the Nazi’s Final Solution was intended to erase a people and their culture, then recording, preserving and handing down recipes defied that destructive intent.

20 dkg Mehl (20 decagrams flour)

I believe there is no better way to honor these women than to make their recipes. Weighing out the ingredients and guessing the techniques that were so familiar to Mina that she did not even bother to record them, it is impossible not to think about the suffering of those in the camps. How painful and yet how life-affirming it must have been to remember favorite recipes and the joyful memories of food shared with family and friends. And we can only marvel at these women’s desperation to ensure that at least some of their recipes would survive.

Mehl, geben 1/2 der Masse…

Mehl, geben 1/2 der Masse in eine ausgesch[?mierte] u[nd] ausgestreute Form geben darauf eine feste Marmelade, geben die andere Hälfte der Masse darauf, belegen es mit ein [?] der Hälfte geschnittene Mandeln und backen es 1 Stunde lang. Hält sich 4 Wochen.

Flour, put half of the mixture in a greased and strewn tin [i.e. dusted with sugar] add some firm jam on top, add the other half of the mixture[.] on top, cover it with one [?] of the half cut [i.e. split] almonds and bake it for 1 hour. Keeps for 4 weeks.

Credit: Simon Newman.

References

  1. Susan E. Cernyak-Spatz, quoted in Cara de Silva, ed., In Memory’s Kitchen: A Legacy From the Women on Terezín (1996), (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield, 2006), xxix.

About

Simon P. Newman is Sir Denis Brogan Professor of History (Emeritus) at the University of Glasgow, and Honorary Fellow at the Institute for Research in the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He is completing a book on enslaved people in early modern London but hopes to spend more time cooking, thinking and perhaps writing about historical recipes.

He is grateful to Meg Munck for help translating the recipe instructions. The original recipe can be seen as Image 4 of Cookbooks, Stern and Pächter family papers, Collections of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

 

Consuming History—Or Are We?

By Marie Pellissier 

I’ve always been fascinated by the appeal of food in living history museums—the sound and aromas of someone cooking over an iron stove or open hearth never fails to draw visitors’ attention. Since I moved to Williamsburg, I’ve had plenty of opportunity to see how Colonial Williamsburg uses food to help people connect with the past—and, as part of my dissertation, I plan to explore how this interpretive strategy has changed over time. 

Food has been a critical part of interpretation at Colonial Williamsburg since the museum was established in 1926. Visitors in the early years of the museum expected to encounter “authentic” Southern food in the museum’s restaurants, and to find African-American women cooking in the historic area’s restored kitchens. To understand what sorts of dishes they ought to be cooking, Colonial Williamsburg historian Helen Duprey Bullock turned her attention to eighteenth-century foodways. The souvenir cookbook The Williamsburg Art of Cookery, published in 1938, was the culmination of years of Bullock’s efforts researching and collecting “traditional Virginian” recipes, and provides an interesting study in contrasts. Bullock’s book is designed to be as authentic an object as possible, and yet, the actual recipes were often far from anything that an eighteenth-century Virginian would recognize. 

Helen Bullock, The Williamsburg Art of Cookery, 1938. Image credit: author’s own photograph.

Bullock modeled her project after the first cookbook printed in British North America, E. Smith’s The Compleat Housewife, printed in an abridged edition by Williamsburg printer William Parks in 1742. In a note to the reader at the end of the book, Bullock describes the volume as “a typographical Adaptation [sic]” of Parks’ Compleat Housewife, set in old-style Caslon, “the closest available Approach to the [type] used by Parks.” The paper was specially made, and the binding “is believed,” Bullock wrote, “to be a successful Reconstruction of the Binding” of Parks’ Compleat Housewife. Bullock wanted the museum visitors who saw her book in the gift shop to believe that they were buying an authentic object, as close to owning a piece of history as possible. 

Title page for Eliza Smith’s 1730 book, The Compleat Housewife. Image credit: Library of Congress.

 

The contents of the book, however, are far from original to the eighteenth century. The recipes Bullock has collected are from a hodgepodge of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century sources, and some have been modified for the twentieth-century cook. Some recipes are deliberately constructed to make readers feel a connection to the founders—like “Mount Vernon Pound Cake” and “Martha Washington’s Potato Light Rolls.” Bullock doesn’t demonstrate any concrete links between these recipes and the Washington family, but the recipes do serve to help the reader link themselves to the founding fathers (or, rather, the founding mothers!). These connections reinforced the museum’s emphasis on patriotism and nostalgia for the nation’s earliest days. 

Painting of Martha Washington. Image credit: National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.

 

But the cookbook also taps into a deeply embedded nostalgia for the days of the antebellum South. It includes a recipe for “Robert E. Lee Cake,” which is a light, fatless cake with citrus and coconut filling (much like an angel food cake). The version Bullock offers is attributed to the Lane family of Williamsburg, and dated circa 1870 (though Robert E. Lee Cake did not appear in print until 1879). A punch recipe attributed to Confederate office Colonel Walter Herron Taylor contributes to the conflation of colonial America and the antebellum South. In the section “Of Christmas in Virginia” (which has no parallel in E. Smith’s Compleat Housewife), Bullock describes the “generous Hospitality” to be found on the plantations at Christmastime, when “the Negroes…appeared at the great House to wish each Person ‘Joyful Christmas’.” Recipes linked to Confederate officers and descriptions of enslaved people as grateful and joyful reinforced narratives of the Lost Cause, offering visitors a comfortable image of the past as a simpler time, when racial distinctions and hierarchies were clear and unchallenged. 

Despite Bullock’s efforts to ensure that The Williamsburg Art of Cookery was as physically accurate as possible, the contents of the book were distinctly shaped by the prevailing winds of public memory. Visitors to Colonial Williamsburg in the 1930s expected to see a paternalistic past, shaped by racial hierarchies and stability—but they also expected to see authentic objects, to conjure a feeling of being physically connected to the past. The Williamsburg Art of Cookery fulfilled all of those expectations.  


About

Marie Pellissier is a PhD candidate at William & Mary. She is beginning work on her dissertation, which will focus on the intersection of food, memory, and identity in and of early America. She is the creator of More than a Kitchen-Aid: The Elizabeth Capell Cookbook and co-creator of Explore Common Sense.

The Circus Origins of Pink Lemonade

By Betsy Golden Kellem

Few things whip up an appetite quite like the playground of cotton candy, popcorn, fried food and sweet drinks that accompanies a circus. Pink lemonade in particular has long been associated with the circus, which does not simply claim to enjoy the beverage, but to have invented it: and in a business that relies so heavily on oral tradition (in industry parlance, “cutting up jackpots”), there are two tales about how the drink was therein first created.

Black and white ad, reading 'Iced lemonade, cool and refreshing'. There is a picture of a glass, lemons, and tools for making lemonade.
Iced Lemonade, published, Currier and Ives, 1879. Image credit: Library of Congress.

 

The first comes from Henry E. Allott, whose New York Times obituary (1912) bills him as the “Inventor of Pink Lemonade,” and attributes his creation to a stroke of luck: one day, mixing a batch of plain yellow lemonade, Allott claimed to have knocked a pile of red cinnamon candy into the tub by mistake. “The resulting rose-tinted mixture sold so surprisingly well,” relates the Times, “that he continued to dispense his chance discovery.” 

George Conklin begged to differ. A career showman and lion tamer, Conklin included the creation myth of pink lemonade in his 1921 memoir The Ways of the Circus, crediting his brother Pete with an equally happy accident on the Mabie circus. Conklin stated that one day in 1857, with concession sales going swimmingly, Pete found that he was out of water and there were no nearby natural sources from which he could refill his beverage stock. Racing frantically through the show lot, Pete found the bareback rider Fannie Jamieson in the middle of laundry day, wringing out a pair of her pink tights. “Without giving any explanation or stopping to answer her questions,” Conklin explained, “Pete grabbed the tub of pink water and ran.” Sales of what Pete billed as strawberry lemonade went gangbusters, and “from then on no first-class circus was without pink lemonade.”

Glittering concession stand purveying all sorts of foods and treats at the Colorado State Fair in Pueblo, Colorado.
Modern concession stand at the Colorado State Fair in Pueblo, Colorado, ca. 2015. Image Credit: Library of Congress.

 

And, look… everyone likes lemonade. Lemonade is refreshing and tart and has the whiff of summer indulgence to it. Not everything that was sold as lemonade in the nineteenth century was what you and I and the Federal Trade Commission would regard as lemonade, though: it was common practice, inside the circus and beyond, to serve a form of lemonade that had more citrus in name than composition. 

Some vendors truly did make a point of ensuring the purity of their lemon beverages. Others simply took anything that would make a vaguely tart-sweet combo and floated a lemon slice on top: one 1867 vendor, selling to incoming immigrants to the United States, was said to have offered a dingy mix of molasses, vinegar and water with a few sad lemon rinds floating on top. The standard circus recipe, relayed by Conklin, long involved water, tartaric acid (a fruit-based acidulant compound that lends a sour flavor, and from which cream of tartar is derived), a pinch of red aniline dye (a coal tar derivative now largely used to tint wood stain), and slices of re-usable “floater” lemons for appearance’s sake. (And before you gasp in horror, a modern combination of high fructose corn syrup, petroleum-based red #40 and “natural flavors” may not be too far off.) 

That said, as long as the drinks were cold and the show was good, no one much needed to pretend that pink lemonade came from anything organic: one writer in 1872 concluded that only “a possible purchaser with hereditary proclivities to insanity may be deluded into the idea that strawberries enter into the composition of the potable.” 


About


Betsy Golden Kellem is a scholar of the unusual. A historian and media attorney, she has written for The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, Atlas Obscura, The Washington Post and Slate, and serves on the board of the Barnum Museum in Bridgeport, Connecticut. She blogs at Drinks With Dead People, and is at work on a book about remarkable performing women.