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061: On the Move: Portable Food in Collingham

Updated: Aug 25, 2022

What kind of food do we consume when we are on the move? Think of the “dhabhas” in the north or “dabhas” in the south where you are guaranteed a butter chicken and a fresh naan; or the tomato soup and ginger chai served by the Indian Railways, or the Indigo salted cashews on flights. How did these particular dishes become popular? How did the cooks and caterers decide on particular menus? Who were they catering to? What were the limitations in terms of expenses, ingredients and shelf life?

What did the civil and military British officials eat in the colonial India of the 1800s when they travelled? In the third section of the fifth chapter of “Curry”, Collingham writes about this food cooked and consumed on the move. When the officials travelled upriver on a budgerow - a “cumbersome flat-bottomed boat” (p. 122), they were supplied with “hot rolls…and meat curries” by a cook boat that pulled up alongside the main boat (p.123).

When they chose to travel overnight by a palanquin “carried by six or eight bearers” along the “dak” or postal routes, they were invariably served a “country captain” chicken curry “flavoured with turmeric and chillies” made by the resident cook at the Dak bungalow (p.124). These dak bungalows are now used by forest officials and the Public Works Department across India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

The third type of travel was luxurious camps during the colder months in the countryside where tents “were fitted out with glass doors and a stove” (p. 125). The British officials and their guests heavily indulged in hunting and killed quail, wild duck, rabbits, boars and deer, which were then made into “shikari (hunting) curries” (p. 123, 125). Alongside these curries and rice, there was an extensive spread of jams, tinned fish, omelettes, cold meats, fruit, cakes and wine, supplied by their kitchen retinue.

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