Historically, travellers and merchants spurred a greater production and availability of resources. The routes they chose for trading impacted the social, political and culinary histories of their reign, and of the regions in which they traded. Take the example of the chilli: To think of it not as our own but as something that was imported only a little over 450 years ago is both shocking and humbling.
But the truth remains that even an ingredient that is so widely assumed to be Indian only made an appearance in Indian kitchens around 1542 in the Malabar region, thanks to foreign travellers or traders. Although the chilli per se is an ancient crop, with accounts of it dating as far back as 7500 BC in South America (which predates the Indus Valley civilisation), it was only thousands of years later that it made it to India. But more on this historical spice later.
Understanding the role of merchants was important for me to determine how the Indian pantry gained access to foreign ingredients. Perhaps what miso, gochujang and truffle oil are for us now is what cinnamon, rose and pineapple were for Indians back then.
Popular history has us believe that it was the Portuguese explorer…