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Portrait Mayur Sharma

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1. Dear Mayur you are a world traveller to discover culinary landscapes around the globe. Can you please describe what you are doing and where your motivation to travel comes from?

M: When as a young boy I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up I never picked a vocation or profession. All I wanted to do was travel the world and meet people. As I grew up this remained my directing principle. If any vocation offered an opportunity to travel and meet people then I pursued it who leheartedly. I have travelled to over 65 countries with various jobs and also just for the sheer joy of discovery. My most recent 'job' saw me travel over 150,000kms by road across all of India. My best friend Rocky and I co-anchored a television show called Highway On My Plate, which explored the beauty and diversity of India through the lens of food. Over 230 episodes we discovered and shared, with our viewers across India and the world, over 1500 eateries, 100+ cuisines, and close to the 7000 different di hes/recipes. Our book 'Highway On My Plate - The Indian Guide to Roadside Eating' won a 'Best in the World' award at the 2012 the World Gourmand Awards in Paris. All this for indulging our joy for travel, human interactions and a spirit of discovery. I wake up each morning feeling truly blessed!

2. You have seen many countries and cultures. Can you tell me about one or two memories of your journeys that impressed you most

 

M: I remember traveling across Africa by road (bus, walk, hitchhike)  in 2004 and being deeply impressed by people's ability to sing, laugh and find joy in the simplest of things. Sometimes having just a little makes for a simple and fulfilled life. As a vegetarian I struggled a bit at times and remember a 3-day journey by bus where I survived on a loaf of bread and a nag of green apples. *

Sri Lanka immediately after the Tsunami really gave me a fresh perspective of what love, sacrifice,  kindness and compassion we humans are capable of. I was fortunate enough to survive a unintended swim in the Tsunami and stayed on for 6 months afterwardsnto help in the relief and rebuilding efforts. I worked with volunteers from all over the world who gave so generously of their time, energy, love and money to help out complete strangers in a foreign land. My time in Sri Lanka truly taught me to appreciate everything I have in life and also to never get attached to anything material as it can all go away in the wink of an eye. Treasures of the heart accumulated through building great relationships based on respect, compassion and sacrifice are worth more than billions in the bank.

It was in Sri Lanka that I learnt to eat rice & dal using my hands and that too by following the example of an American girl. That was the first of many life lessons from her as we are now married and I'm still learning;)

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3. Food is reflecting culture. Would you support this thesis and if yes can you tell me about an example when food was the door opener to a different culture for you?

M: Absolutely! Food completely defines the culture of a nation. It is deeply influenced by and in turn influences the history, geography, geopolitics and even the future of a nation. In my travels across the world it has been food that has been the door opener every time. No matter which continent I traveled the easiest way to make friends has been to discover the food of that country and chat with people about it. If I had a free meal for everytime I had a conversation start with " I love Indian food but it's quite spicy..." I wouldn't have to pay for dinner for the next 10 years :) For anyone that comes to India it's the best place to start and once you've asked the officer at Immigration what food you should try in India it's smooth sailing all the way. In fact that is always the first place I start a food conversation in any country I visit...at the Immigration counter! While walking through Africa I was stopped at the border of Angola by the Immigration officers since I did not have a visa for the country. We chatted about many things including food and even though they did not grant me entry I have a wonderful memory of sitting with them in their little hut and sharing a meal. It was pretty spicy too!

4. Indian food is different from region to region. Some regions develop faster the others. Where will Indian food be in 50 years?

M: When we won an award for our  book at the World Gourmand Awards I remember being told by the head of the jury that they were astounded by the sheer range of dishes/recipes that were mentioned in our book. We have since written Volume II of the book and by a rough estimate we have a total of just under 7000 different types of dishes/recipes covered in these 2 books. Despite our (as yet uncontested) claim that Rocky and I have eaten more more types of Indian dishes than anyone alive we feel we have barely scratched the surface of our vast culinary landscape. In our country the language, culture, costume and food can change after every 150 kms so it's safe to say that the Indian culinary journey is a lifetime's worth of discovery.

Indian food has suffered greatly from a reputation of being too spicy, oily, creamy and heavy but fortunately that is beginning to change (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TJQI11E4L5E) as world class Chefs like Manish Mehrotra at the Indian Accent, Delhi and Gaggan Anand of Gaggan, Bangkok introduce Indian food tailored to international palates. India is a land of many contrasts with freezing winters in the mountainous north, harsh summers in the Western deserts, hot & humid climes all along the 6,000 km coastline and every other terrain and climate in between. Influenced by the climate the food across these regions has also evolved over time and also taken on influences from the invaders and colonizers over the centuries.

Across different parts of India you will find food that is spicy (not just chili and hey chili is not even really ours...it came to us from the Americas thanks to the Portuguese!) or bland, eaten almost raw or slow cooked for days, flash fried, smoked, pickled, aged, cured and every other preparatory technique in between. In the state of Arunachal Pradesh with it's harsh winters Yak meat is smoked and dried for consumption through the year while in Lucknow at Tunday Kababai you can enjoy a soft meat kebab seasoned with 163 types of herbs, spices, roots, flowers etc. and cooked so perfectly that it melts in your mouth without you even having to chew. If you're wondering why I chose these examples for a 'vegetarian country' well here's another fact for you. There are 760 million people in India that enjoy eggs, meat, fish and seafood as part of their diet so how cool is it that they are still defined by the term 'non-vegetarian' considering the vegetarians are in a minority!

Oh! almost didn't answer your question! In 50 years Indian food will truly have taken over the world because we have so much to offer the world in terms of ingredients, produce, spices, cooking techniques and centuries of practice. It's just a matter of getting it out there and this is beginning to happen. India has a dish for every taste, every preference, every palate and every season. As soon as we're done sharing the diversity of food with our fellow Indians we'll be moving on to take over the world. Watch out for the revolution because all it will bring is full stomachs. singing hearts and smiling faces!

5. What does good food means to you?

M: Fresh ingredients prepared and served with love in the company of people I enjoy. If it can be somewhere with a great view then hey I'll take that too!

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