The Taj Hotel has discovered the menu it served on the night of August 14, 1947. The menu, which several of the group’s hotels are recreating to commemorate 70 years of Indian independence, starts with consommé a l’Indienne (clear soup with spices) or thick almond soup, then rolled, stuffed salmon or Poularde Soufflé Independence (chicken soufflé) and ends with Vacherin de Peches Liberation (peach and meringue dessert).
I’m guessing it was all cold — that soufflé jellied, rather than served hot. With the main action happening at midnight, it would have been a long dinner, even with additional entertainment from jazz musicians Chic Chocolate and Micky Correa and dance performances from Shirin Vajifdar and her pupils “The Marwadi Belles.” A cold dinner would have been less hassle.
Elsewhere, the food was restrained. The Times of India for August 14 advertised Independence Eve galas at other Bombay venues and the only given menu, from the Caprice restaurant, was just green peas soup, cold meat salad, chicken dhansak and peach toast. Food was rationed, possibly because the British were sending large amounts to war ravaged Europe, but also because of famine in India.
For several years, food on August 15 was constrained because of this.
In 1948, the Bombay government announced sternly that “the ban against 24 or more people dining together will only be relaxed on condition that only non-rationed articles will be served at such dinners.” In 1949, ToI reported that Lucknow shops were full of sweets for Independence Day, but few could afford them “with sugar selling at more than a rupee a seer”.
Perhaps this is why, even when shortages eased, we never developed much of an August 15 feasting tradition.
This is despite the fact that, coincidentally, our national colours are easily recreated in food. Countries with blue or black in their flags struggle to find edible items, but green comes with many vegetables and pistachios, while orange is saffron and citrus fruits. Online you can find recreations of national flags in foods and the Indian flag is usually one of the few one might actually like to eat.
Unfortunately, an oppressive sense of nationalism comes in the way of celebrating India in this way. Other countries see no disrespect in celebrating national holidays by plastering their flags on food but, with the exception of some mithai, edible Indian attempts risk getting complaints. In 2007, for example, Sachin Tendulkar landed in a soup after being accused of having cut an Indian flag-themed cake in the West Indies.
Perhaps we can learn from the Italians who celebrate their flag’s red, white and green in the tomato, mozzarella and basil topping of Pizza Margherita. The combination is an old (and delicious) one, but in 1890, when unified Italy was barely 20 years old and pizzamaker Raffaele Esposito named the pizza after Italy’s Queen Margherita, the country enthusiastically adopted the name. It shows an admirably assured sense of nationalism to be able to celebrate your flag while eating it.