Episode 8: I hate Dishoom
Download transcript here or read below.
The 2nd in the new podcast series, we revisit Zarina's 2020 text 'I hate Dishoom' that caused... a ruckus. How does she feel about it now? Was it even that deep? Did the owner of Dishoom get in touch and did they meet to discuss it? Find out on the latest episode of the white pube podcast wooo
Speakers: Gabrielle de la Puente and Zarina Muhammad
Transcribed by Michael Lacey
Jingle by Toynoiz
GDLP - Hi everyone, a quick note up-top before I start today’s episode. We recorded this, we were so happy with the discussion and we were excited to share it online. And then we realised, when it came to editing the episode, that Zarina’s SD card had shit the bed. We have tried our best to jigsaw together audio from Zarina’s original recording of the I Hate Dishoom text, with the Zoom audio that she has unfortunately had to use for this episode, with my microphone audio. It’s not as amazing and good and clear as I would like it to be but we really felt like the conversation was important, fun and cleansing - representative of how we feel about this text now. So we’re going to publish it anyway. If you struggle with it at any point please refer to the transcription on the White Pube dot com. Sorry, this won’t happen again!
Welcome to the latest episode of The White Pube Podcast. My name’s Gabrielle de la Puente
ZM - And i’m Zarina Muhammad.
G - And we are back for another episode in this series we are doing where we revisit old White Pube texts. We started this podcast in 2020 but The White Pube actually started in 2015. So there’s loads of bangers, basically.
Z - Yeah.
G - Loads of stuff that caused a ruckus online that you might not be aware of, but we are haunted by.
Z - Laughs.
G - Today’s episode looks at the 2020 text by Zarina, I Hate Dishoom. Dishoom is a restaurant in London, is it anywhere else? I’m sure it is…
Z - It’s all over the place, are you crazy? They’ve got them everywhere, it’s like Maccies now. Any major city you walk into, where there are Indians, theres a Dishoom.
G - Like last time, we’re going to start the episode by reading the text out and then we’re going to have a little discussion about it. How was it received, what would we say differently now, do we full-on agree with ourselves? That’s the episode. So, take it away.
Z - I fucking hate Dishoom. To me, Dishoom represents a wave that’s cresting right now, this move of ~contemporary Indian street food~. These restaurants pop up in zone 1 London, on town centre high streets in Liverpool & Manchester. Maybe they do small plates, maybe the young white waiter tells me ‘it’s Indian tapas? So we recommend 4-6 plates between 2 people :)’. Or maybe they serve it canteen style, all on a tray and in papery fast-casual packaging. Or maybe it’s just a small menu of 5 starters, 5 mains, they’ve not got Coke but they’ve got Karma Cola, £4.50 for one singular fuckin ~roti flatbread~. It’s not just Dishoom, it’s other chains like Masala Zone & Bundobast; it’s one offs like Roti Chai, Soho Wala, Kricket, Kati Roll Company (the list goes fucking on n on); it’s more upscale like Jamavar, Bombay Bustle, Cinnamon Club, Tamarind, and Gunpowder. It’s not even just street food u kno; that’s just terminology that dissolves into PR & marketing copy, SEO keyword and vibey aphorism. It collapses contemporary Indian into street food aesthetics; uses phrases like ~street kitchen~, ~market specials~ and ~hawker-inspired~. It’s lassi in a mason jar, stainless steel serving dishes for the aesthetic only, 70s Bollywood kitschy disco pop plays overhead, there’s a vintage bicycle somewhere in the room, pom pom garlands with little bells on the end; all of that is laid against a hipster industrial aesthetic of exposed brick, piping and rough wood surfaces. Restaurants like this play a specific role, they deploy a specific aesthetic, they ~DO~ a specific thing in the history of Indian food in the UK. N I’m gona tell u about it.
Curry houses of the past were defined by colonial history; white tablecloths folded into neat accordions and fine silverware, waiters in shirts, plastic chandeliers, leather backed menus, Ruby Murray. The food was subservient to british taste; korma, jalfrezi, balti are all Bengali inventions, they are the conjured image of what british people might think Indian food is. It’s a cuisine and coherent aesthetic in one; both were defined by India & britain’s historical relationship, the power dynamic that exists between those two places. Bengali-Indian curry houses are a testament to 20th century immigration history and the circumstances that facilitated it. The first significant wave of Bengalis came to the East End of London to work in the textiles industry; in the late 70s when heavy industry was privatised and collapsed, they faced mass redundancies. As a result, many turned to opening their own restaurants and takeaways across the country. Alongside them, Indians came via East Africa in the 60s and 70s; as countries like Kenya, Uganda & Tanzania adopted Africanisation policies, the Indians that were settled there had to choose between expulsion n displacement, or forfeiting the right to british passports. Many chose to come to britain, preferring the stability of the Great Colonial Motherland to the uncertainty of a new regime in East Africa that wouldn’t afford them the same administrative privileges that the british colonial regime did. My mum was born in Nairobi, Kenya; her first passport listed her nationality as british, and her family moved to the UK in 1967 under those same laws. Indian immigrants in that wave set up shops and restaurants, while others settled into white-collar employment. Both waves were precluded by incredible and overt racism from white brits; with work specifically, there was a clear choice between facing explicit discrimination in the employment market, and setting up your own business to just side-step it. Obviously, there are questions about class and economic agency within that ability to set up shop for yourself. But curry houses and Bengali-Indian restaurants were subject to a more implicit pressure towards subjugation, on the market of consumer interest.
White british taste and expectation shaped the food on offer, as well as the aesthetic that made up the specific ambience of a curry house; these restaurants catered to a white british taste, and in turn held whiteness as a central concern. The Indian immigrants that came over from East Africa were coming from countries where they sat in a middle ground; they were privileged with administrative roles in a colonial infrastructure above the local Black population, but never ever equal to the white colonial rulers that dictated the terms of governance. This culinary subservience to white british taste and expectation was built off the back of that existing historical power dynamic, defining the Indian restaurants of that era. They served food that they didn’t eat themselves, at home with family or for their own staff in the kitchen. They literally created a whole new cuisine with white british expectation at its centre. I say this without moral judgement or derision, bc any restaurant that served actual Bengali food back then would’ve flopped; can you imagine tryna sell Rui Maas to a white person in the 80s?
The history of Asian immigrant communities became more settled in the 90s under the Blair government. It was less Enoch Powell Rivers of Blood, less National Front skinheads going out paki-bashing, and more Blairite multiculturalism and the Great melting pot Britain. It was Blair’s Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, that first declared that Chicken Tikka Masala was ‘now a true british national dish’, and it was Labour MP Mohammad Sarwar that sought to give Glasgow EU protected geographical status as its place of origin. There’s a literal Early Day Motion recorded in parliamentary archives that reads, ‘this House records its appreciation of the culinary masterpiece that is chicken tikka masala; notes that it is britain’s most popular curry’, which is quite incredibly batshit if you ask me. The Chicken Tikka Masala being seen as symbolic of britain’s race relations/cultural identity at the time (vague ~tolerance~, but requiring assimilation into the wider landscape of british values) follows the trajectory set by Bengali-Indian curry houses and the way they were defined by the wider political and historical contexts they sat within. I’m not reaching when I say that you can read a cultural history, a socio-political position through food. I’ve said it before in ; food is a disembodied signifier, it can speak of or through bodies without being attached to them, and it can be read in this untethering. In that, I am critical and incredibly skeptical about how Dishoom and this wave of ~modern Indian street food~ restaurants are read, what they will say about the communities and context they sit within when we look back at them. We are now post-9/11 and post-woke, Blairite neoliberalism has slipped into a full on far right government, and 9 years ago David Cameron declared that ‘multiculturalism has failed’. So what the fuck does ~contemporary indian~ dining even fucking mean?
In the same way that curry houses were defined by their relationship to whiteness, and provided both a cuisine and coherent aesthetic in response; contemporary Indian street food places suffer the same. In terms of aesthetic, they represent a weird merging of a subcontinental arte-povera & a parallel hipster fetishisation of industrial impoverishment. The stainless steel thalis aren’t there for their cheap durability, they’re there because they will make a handsome instagram flatlay; pendant light fittings and exposed piping overhead. There’s a diaspora art sensibility to the way these two aesthetics are thrown together and juxtaposed; the kitschy-folk aesthetic of heavy embroidery and garland strings, and the clean sparseness of hipster minimalism. Sometimes that identification of Diaspora Art undertones is a bit on the nose; in Kentish Town’s Babuji, when you walk down to the toilets, the staircase is lined with HateCopy prints. All this aesthetic does, in fusing the two things together, is nod towards an image of authenticity. Where curry houses conjured a colonial era pretence of grandeur, this aesthetic deploys a more casual assembly. It makes an attempt to condition an impoverished aesthetic, render it familiar and cool, rather than run-down and sincere. It’s incredibly post-modern tbqh.
And then with the food itself, these contemporary street food restaurants are cuttingly symbolic of gentrification trajectories and processes. The upscaling of street food more generally represents the wider hipster search for the elusive ~Authentic~. It’s a colonial approach to things; you’re out there searching for novelty, something raw and real, so you can take it, recondition it and repurpose it as something authored into a familiar shape to you and your cultural specificity. Meanwhile, the original thing is barely recognisable, or only recognisable as something far removed from its original cultural or socio-political context. Regeneration/gentrification, the upscaling of street food - it’s the same force at work, it’s the same colonial n capitalist extraction model that has typified whiteness for centuries. 21st century white (sub)culture specifically is defined by an inability to create anything for itself, instead it’s characterised by a reliance on absorbing elements and remaking them in its own image. Its search for authenticity is prescribed by its inability to produce anything authentic on its own terms. If these contemporary indian street food places mirror that logic of authenticity, then as with the curry houses of the past, they are both defined by a cultural centrality of white taste and expectation.
The problem specifically with this drive towards authenticity, is that it never engages with the ~’authentic’~ subject it is seeking. Rather than meaningfully considering what makes up the original dishes, why they work and how they work; it seeks to redeploy the shallowest components of them. It primarily focuses on aesthetic and signifier; Dishoom describes its Vada Pav as ‘Bombay’s version of London’s Chip Butty’. This description rests on physical likeness and equivalence, rather than engaging with its functional origin: as a handheld train platform snack for Bombay’s factory workers and commuter class. It skips over its historic and cultural significance: as a pav (a bun) dish, how pavs are a staple part of Maharastra’s urban, working-class food culture, how it’s a Portugese word that references the state’s history of colonial intervention, and how industrial histories in cities like Bombay & Pune have driven its ubiquity in the state’s food landscape. Chip butties have a similar history and origin too; but somehow in that description, both things are collapsed and stripped of any socio-political context that could inform them, or tie them to the living breathing people that eat them every day. It’s not just Dishoom that collapses and obliterates those specificities, I’ve seen vada pavs called ~Bombay burgers~ and other infuriatingly vague and bizarre names in other places.
That’s why I hate Dishoom; because rather than engage with regional specificity to honour it with a kind of political and thoughtful refinement, it engages with regional specificity to repurpose it into a blander, whiter version of itself. It’s not better, it’s just more effective at catering to the expectations of a contemporary white public. In my mind, at least Bengali-Indian curry houses knew there was nothing authentic about themselves; there was a thrill in the duplicity and hustle of serving your staff a completely different menu to your white customers. Places like Dishoom are representative in a hollow and painful way; of an aspirational urbane Asian middle class, that is divorced from their ancestral history and culture, actively seeking assimilation and acceptance from a white establishment. ~contemporary indian~ speaks more to the asian relationship with whiteness, our current proximity and adjacency to it, as well as about contemporary metropolitan whiteness itself. Dishoom opened in London, but now has chains in Birmingham, Manchester and Edinburgh. Bundobast is in Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds. Mowgli is in Liverpool, Leicester, Manchester, Nottingham, Cardiff and Leeds. Glasgow has got a string of stand-alone examples in Tuk Tuk, Chaakoo Bombay Cafe and Usha’s. And quite frankly, London’s list never fucking ends; it spans across scale, from fast-casual to upscale fine dining. This is a cosmopolitan trend, these street-food places pop up where there’s a significant (and potentially middle-class) Asian community that has a history of interaction and integration with white communities. In these towns and cities, Bengali curry houses have been surpassed as lowbrow and janky trope, in favour of places that present the pristinely engineered image of authenticity. I think this tells us a lot about white culture in these places; that white people in the UK’s big cities are self-aware of their own whiteness, but fundamentally unwilling to deconstruct it in any meaningful way, or recoil from it in order to actually experience something authentic on someone else’s terms. I think it also tells us that Asian communities are no longer defined by a predominantly working-class experience in the way they once were; since the 60s & 70s, social mobility has happened to some, often drawn along the lines of religion, region and caste. The current Tory government is packed full of asians that have no problem enacting hostile environment policies that’d see their own parents deported. And while I hate the model minority myth, it’s not looking all that untrue when you read it alongside class categories and the identity markers that inform the workings of class in the UK diaspora.
In this sweeping generalisation of Brit-Asian culinary history, I’m obviously speaking about the food and the restaurants that emerge into the mainstream of the Great British Food Imaginary. While all of this was (and is) happening, there have been (and are) restaurants that existed to cater to Asian immigrant communities, their tastes, their conception of familiarity and their homesickness. Maru’s Bhajia House has been on Ealing Road since the mid-70s; my mum remembers meeting her sister there for lunch on weekdays, it was the halfway point between her college and the office in Alperton where my masi worked. The Black Country has a long history of Asian pubs; they’ve existed since the 70s too, serving Asian foundry workers after their shifts, at a time when colour bars precluded their access to white pubs. These sites - in Wembley, East Ham, Southall, Smethwick, Sparkhill, Handsworth, Pollokshields & Melton Road - they are defined by a working class Asian experience and history. Any question about ~authenticity~ is misplaced; authenticity is a concern for a white public in search of novelty, and these places don’t include a white centre. And that’s what I wish could happen within the mainstream. Where Dishoom & the like describe an aspirational assimilationist compromise, there are restaurants in Pinner that represent a kind of wild autonomy and happy agency within those disparate points.
Though I hate Dishoom and all those other Indian contemporary places, I still wish they were better, happier, settled and different. It’s not that I hate the mainstream, I just wish it wasn’t so totally defined by the whims of a white public. I wish I didn’t feel icky about the fetishisation of authenticity; I wish that authentic wasn’t even a term we had to navigate in the first place; I wish I could take you all to a Gujarati sports bar and tell you about the East African specificity of mogo & Zanzibar mix over a long pint of Kingfisher; I wish there were fucking dabeli spots in zone 1 that slap as hard as the ones in Kingsbury. I think I wish we were the centre.
G - The end!
Z - That was about 20 minutes long, that. So long.
G - 20 perfect minutes, though. It’s such a good text. Over the span of however many years we’ve been writing, it feels like it is up there. In those moments where we decide to try and take on something huge, like my Love Island text. Something that everyone loves, and even we think we liked at one point? And then we just had this whole moment where everything came undone and then we have to sit down and write through that undoing. That’s what has happened here, this is just so huge. And it probably felt like, huge to write? In the sense that you’ve got something massive off your chest, and it is done so perfectly and clearly, now it’s done and any time anyone asks you about it, you’ve got it all written out. You can say, read that - I don’t need to explain myself, I already did. I like that.
Z - Do you want to hear a fun fact, though? It’s interesting that you say it’s like writing through the undoing, that’s a really nice way of putting it. But, I don’t know how this changes that, but I like Dishoom more now that I’ve written this text.
G - Interesting! Explain. Why? What?
Z - In this text, I clearly hate it, right? Luckily it’s called I Hate Dishoom.
G - I can’t wait to hear what you’re about to say, this is exciting.
Z - I’ve got these grievances and now I’ve aired them. The process of writing this text was the process of reconciling this anger, that has nowhere to go. I put it in a text and now I’m kind of like, OK, what now? That end line, I wish we were the centre. Well, we’re not. So what now? Where do we go from here? They’re going to exist, I’m not single-handedly going to shut down contemporary Indian fast-casual. They just exist and the food isn’t bad, it’s alright. It’s just not what I am looking for when I want good Indian food. Not to be a Dishoom apologist now…
G - Gasps audibly
Z - I’ve reconciled that they exist, and they exist in this category, but somehow drawing a line around them and being able to describe them in a way that I felt made sense. Airing my grievances by figuring out where they sat in the culture… I feel better. I feel like I’ve got that off my chest. My grievance was with no one being able to identify where they culturally sat, with them being mis-categorised culturally. Now I have been able to do that, I’ve sorted it out for myself in my head. I do feel better. Does that make sense?
G - That’s interesting. I know what you mean, it does make sense. Do you think then that it’s not that deep…?
Z - I don’t think it’s that deep. I don’t think it ever was that deep. I don’t think when I wrote it, I was sat here like key-smashing, I-fucking-hate-Dishoom… like, I ate in Dishoom before this text. I used to go to dinner. It wouldn’t be my first place of choice but I’d go with friends. Me and my group of little Indian pals, we fuckin love Indian small plates. That’s like our thing! We love small plates! It’s like a gals that love small plates. We know where it culturally sits - it’s not our Mum’s cooking, it’s not our Grandma’s cooking. It’s not even pretending to be, though. It’s not that deep, but it’s not the one, you know?
G - Mmm. But in that not-that-deep-ness, do you think sometimes when you or I do sit down to write something, we lean into that voice and that clickbait, I Hate Dishoom title, my ‘I’m never watching Love Island again, it’s dead to me’ - as a stance, because it’s more fun to write, but also more engaging for the reader and sometimes it is nice not to be as nuanced, and to just run somewhere, really confidentially.
Z - Yes! I absolutely completely 100% agree. But I also think it’s not just funner to write, funner to read… is that even a word?
G - More fun. You’re a writer, Zarina - come on!
Z - It is quarter past ten PM! My brain turned off about five hours ago.
G - It is super late.
Z - Every brain cell I have is out of office. It’s not just more fun to write and read, but extremity pushes you into new territory, I think. The middle ground is so over-populated, that’s where people’s opinion is most of the time. My Mum will go to Dishoom, have the black dal, say it’s shit but she’ll go back, she’ll still order the black dal and still be like, I don’t like it but it is what it is. She’ll embrace the nuance within her own decision making, her own review process. Maybe that’s just my Mum. But I think it is other people as well. Even I tend to do that. There’s a reason why even though I hate, or hated Dishoom, I still went back for like, small plates club. It isn’t that deep. No one thinks its that deep, so within the space of text, I can put aside that part of my brain that says - it’s fine just leave it - and say no, I am writing a text about Dishoom. I am going to assume a position where I care about it and I can put aside that part of my head that says, it’s not that deep. What if I took this really seriously, as a writing exercise, you know?
G - Yeah, yeah.
Z - I don’t think I’d have to come to this conclusion or made that connection between gentrification, Asian upscaling, Asian contemporary Indian… I’ve forgotten what I even called it in the thing. Contemporary Indian fast casual, gentrification and colonial, capitalist trajectories. I don’t think those things would have been connected. I am fundamentally more interested in that point about aesthetics and the way it plays into a diaspora art historical lineage, or cultural trajectory. That’s what I want to take seriously, rather than Dishoom as a business model. You know?
G - So in that sense, now, in 2022, do you think this text is irresponsible?
Z - No, I think it’s amazing. I smacked out a fucking banger. Ten out of ten! I outdid myself. I stand by every single word of this. Obviously I don’t think it’s that deep, I don’t want Dishoom to shut down, it fulfils a purpose. Do you know what? In a very basic, practical sense, it employs people. It’s a business! It is people’s job! It could also be a business in another way, or a multitude of other ways… it could change. But I’m not bothered by it. I say it’s not that deep but I stand by every word, because I was right. Like, I’m right!
G - Mm-hmm.
Z - I said what I said. Did I stutter? I mean, yes I did but that’s because it’s 5,000 words long, you know what I mean.
G - OK. One thing readers may not know, but I think we can talk about because it was tweeted about recently, is that you were contacted by someone important after this text was released. Who was that person and please recount what happened!
Z - Right, so. I’ll tell it as a story…
G - Storytime.
Z - Right from the beginning. I published this, I wasn’t expecting it to go anywhere because in my mind, this was such a niche text. I didn’t expect this to slap, you know? I didn’t think this would pop off. But this was so niche in my mind! I’d written food texts before, this was different, right?
G - I don’t have the number of how many people read it, but I can see that…
Z - Don’t tell me!
G - I can see that 22,000 people viewed it on Instagram, your reading of it.
Z - 22,000!
G - And that’s just on Instagram, so however many on the website, who knows? That’s a lot. So you didn’t think it was going to go anywhere, and it did.
Z - It did. People were into it. They loved it, or they thought I was a fucking idiot.
G - There’s a comment on the IGTV video, that just says ‘please tell me this is satire because this is actually hilarious, cry-laughing-face, cry-laughing-face, cry-laughing-face.’
Z - Do you know what, I can’t even be mad at that. I myself would admit it is not that deep, it is an extreme position for the sake of coming up with a new thought, or a final point that is actually deep. Making a new connection. So I can’t be mad at that because it’s not satire, but it’s not serious. You know? It’s something else. I don’t know what is, but people were either into it, or they were mad, bro. It was a group of people who were mad who weren’t really familiar with us as writers, and I think if you pay attention… if you know who we are, what we write about, if you’re familiar with the oeuvre, the back catalogue, the greatest hits…. if this isn’t the first text you’re coming to, even if you don’t agree, you kind of get where we’re coming from. You can read through and not piss your pants in anger. If this is the first text you’re coming to and you don’t know what’s going on, other writers especially in the art world, even in the food world, don’t write like this. Not to say that people don’t write bad reviews in food writing, because I think even more so than in art criticism, people do write bad reviews.
G - Oh, 100%.
Z - But they don’t write them in this way, I don’t think. I’m writing about Dishoom like it’s a gallery, you know? I don’t think it is the done thing, certainly not with the clickbait title. I think people pooed themselves a little bit when they saw this, and there were a lot of NRI - Non-Resident Indians. Which is a way of describing people… I’m not an NRI, I’m like a little diaspora beg. An NRI is someone who was born in India and then moved away, like an ex-pat, basically. There were a lot of NRIs being like, oh my god are you joking, we love this, it reminds us of home. Which, fair play! Live your life. But that’s got nothing to do with me, because our cultural experiences are not the same. I am a Londoner. It’s just different. So I think there are a lot of people basically getting quite angry in a way that came from an assumption I was speaking for the community, when I’ve never ever spoken for anyone other than myself. And even then I’m not willing to back myself in any serious way.
G - It’s I Hate Dishoom, not WE Hate Dishoom. Imagine if it was, there would have been murder.
Z - Yeah! Everybody Hates Dishoom! There still was murder. It kicked off. I just kind of left it, but then, Sunday evening, we get an Instagram from @dishoom, verified, blue tick mark, not a hoax. Dishoom itself was, actually shall I read out the- no, that’s a bit too far isn’t it. The Dishoom account basically messaged to say hey, read the text, erm, really interesting, do you want to have a chat about this? From Shamil, who is the guy that owns Dishoom. And I was like- first off, no, because I think he’s going to fight me.
G - Laughs
Z - I think, I’m getting set up. I’m going to walk through the Covent Garden into the Dishoom, the one, is it in Covent Garden?
G - I don’t know Zarina. i haven’t been to London in like, ten years, at this point.
Z - There’s the big Dishoom in erm, god knows. I’m going to go in and he’ll be there with his boys and a big baseball bat, ready to fuck me up. I thought I was done for, but do you know who messaged me as well? Jonathan Nunn, of Vittles. I was not expecting it to go anywhere and then my hero DMd. I love Jonathan Nunn. He was like, loved that. Shamil might message you. And I was like, he did! So I was like, first off no, but I had a think about it and actually, if I’d written this about an exhibition and a gallery did get in touch, I’d be like yeah! Why not, let’s have a chat. So let me approach this in the same way that I would approach a gallery reaching out to me. Also he’s probably not going to beat me up because he’s a legitimate businessman, you know what I mean?
G - Yeah. He’s not going to beat you up.
Z - So! We went for coffee, and had a chat.
G - Where did you go for coffee?
Z - Not Dishoom…
G - That’s an important part of the story!
Z - Neutral ground… we met somewhere in East London. He- I don’t know if I can say this! He brought a printout of the text that he’d underlined and annotated. He’d written like, NO! in the margin. I don’t think you understand Gab - I love that.
G - I love that! That’s the highest level of respect you can give me as a writer. You paid so much attention - you printed it out. Printers are the worst piece of technology anyone could ever use. You put yourself through printing something out, then you’ve got a pen, and you’ve sat there, thought about it and made notes. That is the highest honour.
Z - Like, he didn’t just read it on the toilet while he was in between jobs.
G - He was on a couch, or at a desk…
Z - At a desk, with a pen in hand, really taking it in. That blew my mind, because can you imagine? I could write I Hate The Tate. I could really easily write I Hate The Tate, I’ve probably written that seven times over in different ways. Can you imagine if Maria Balshaw DMd me, @tate, hey. Really interesting, would love to have a chat. Took me out for coffee and had underlined parts of the text. Written NO in the margin. If she’d done that, I’d have no choice but to take her seriously.
G - Do you remember the last person who did that to me? It was quite a while ago.
Z - Yes.
G - Alistair Hudson, of Whitworth, Middlesborough Institute of Modern Art fame. I was critic in residence and I’d written something and he just did not agree with what I’d said. It wasn’t printed out, he didn’t take himself to the printer, because we were in different cities, to be fair. But he annotated it and sent me an email and I loved it. I was so excited. Anyone listening is going to be like, right. This is how to engage the White Pube - start printing out the Sunday texts.
Z - This is how to get our attention. If you want to send us hate mail, simply do not leave a sarky comment on Instagram, we don’t read them. If you want to really affect us, send us a fax. Like Bank, fax-back, yeah? An annotated version of our text, underlined. ‘This is complete fucking shit.’ That’s a way to get our attention, get the people going.
G - Us being the people.
Z - The people, us two, yeah. Not even being facetious about it, it was I think really thoughtful. That was a level of engagement with what I was saying, even if he didn’t agree, I was still there knowing that the owner and proprietor of Dishoom… I was aware he might not agree with my text called I Hate Dishoom. This did not come as a surprise to me! But I still really appreciated that he took the time, took the thought, and paid attention to what I was saying. We spent hours at this coffee shop, outside, in September, October - al fresco. This was still London in half-lockdown, level something, level…
G - I can’t remember what the levels mean.
Z - Yeah, we went into a level something lockdown, half lockdown, so we could only be outside, really. We were outside, al fresco, freezing, yelling about colonialism at each other. I was having the time of my life. That’s my idea of a good time. If I have any hobbies, it is chain smoking, drinking red wine and complaining about colonialism. That’s me sorted, that’s my idea of a Sunday night. I was loving life. That was a level of seriousness I was not expecting. I don’t know - I think having that conversation with him as well as a conversation with myself and my own thoughts through the text, I think I reconciled that these places exist and they serve a purpose. He doesn’t agree with me and he doesn’t have to, he’s running a business, employing people. Not to be a Dishoom apologist again… I sound like a girl boss, there. It’s fine, that’s him and what he does, his priorities. But, fun fact, afterwards, he sent me a Christmas present!
G - This is such an insane story.
Z - He sent me the Dishoom cookbook for Christmas, which is really sweet, and I got a little… it came in Amazon packaging!
G - The cheapskate! Imagine being the owner of the company and buying your own book through Amazon to send to someone… it’s so weird.
Z - I don’t know if it was like, a box that he repurposed? But it made me laugh, it just tickled me. I was like, I love this. This is my scale of interaction, yes. Then he writes an end of year text, every December. He sent a version to me where he mentioned that he was now changing the description of Vada Pav on the menu, because I mentioned that it was a shit description.
G - That’s exciting.
Z - So when anyone asks me, as a critic, do you feel like you’ve changed anything? Not in a gallery, but that one, that one menu description in Dishoom. That’s the one head I can mount on my wall and point to and say, I got that! I did that! The only thing though that I’ve actually changed. But I can die happy. Put that on my gravestone!
G - That’s so funny. That’s huge, though. We’ve often had these moments where we’re like - do we make a difference? Do we have any impact? I think we sometimes have personal impact on artists and creatives who feel empowered, I love that. But when it comes to the subjects we are writing about, we’re just speaking to the wall most of the time. So again, I hope that doesn’t come off as facetious to anyone listening, because it is sincerely good.
Z - That’s not hyperbole, it does feel like we’re talking to the wall, every single week.
G - Yeah. I had another question. When you were reading it out, I was thinking wow, this is so well researched and I wondered, how? How do you know this to write about it? The background - did you do extra reading before the text, or did you just know this stuff? What is your research process, or planning process, before a text like this? Just because I think it might be interesting to some people who maybe aspire to write texts on this scale, as well, for themselves, but don’t know where to start.
Z - First of all, my god, love that you’re coming to me for an example of how to write on this scale. That’s really flattering, because I- right, I can’t lie. My first reaction is I just know this stuff, because most of the history that comes out is just a history that I’m aware of because it’s part of my family history and other people I know. In the same way that like, if you’re Portuguese you know loads about custard tarts, or something. It’s just, as an Indian, you’re aware that curry houses exist in a certain way and do certain things. It’s interesting because my Dad is Bengali, my Mum is Gujarati, and the way I’m writing about those two waves of immigration, coming directly from the motherland via East Africa on both sides. I’m aware of those things because of that- Bengali Indian curry houses, as a Bengali person, you kind of know that isn’t Bengali food. You can recognise loads of Bengali uncles outside yelling at you on Brick Lane, and you’re like, what do you expect from me? So yeah, in my mind, I’m quick to dismiss that there is research there because I know this off the top of my nut, it’s not that deep, it’s not like history of research. But it is, to be honest! I need to rate myself because I did actually look at Wikipedia pages.
G - Such an anti climax! I made a note, parliamentary archives - and I thought, how does Zarina know what is in parliamentary archives? Wikipedia!
Z - Wikipedia, yeah!
G - It’s VALID.
Z - It’s valid! And, do you know what? Wikipedia is a better, more reliable academic source than people give it credit for. Because it’s citations, it’s peer reviewed, literally peer-reviewed, because the peers are the public. It’s great, to be honest. That might be false, about the parliamentary records, but like, it was on Wikipedia! The link is there! I checked it, it’s definitely true, because I looked at the link that was linked on Wikipedia and it took me to the parliamentary thingy.
G - The link was actually to the White Pube (laughs)
Z - Yeah, I should check the google page for Asian migration to Britain, or something. Sorry, that’s an anti climax isn’t it?
G - No, I just wondered.
Z - I don’t know, I mean, I do remember thinking, this wasn’t the first food text I’d written. And this was a period in time where I was really interested in writing about food as a subject, and before this I had written maybe two or three. I was quite invested in it, less so now. I think at the time I just had a lot of thinking to do around food and like, the way I thought was through writing. It made sense, it was useful at the time. I’m not saying that like, I’m less interested now because I’m hanging up my hat and it was like, an emotional thing, just that it served a purpose. Whatever. But I remember thinking, someone must have written about this. There must be something I can read that will give me a place to start from. Someone must have written about diaspora art aesthetics for authenticity and fast casual. I could not find a single thing, not a single other article. There probably is, out there, but I couldn’t come across it and I really searched. I thought maybe Vittles would have written something, there would have been something commissioned. The most I could find was like, there was something on Vittles about Asian pubs. There was something as well, Ciaran Thappar has written something about Asian pubs as well. But that’s the most I could find, just about Asian pubs, Desi pubs, their culture and history. That’s the only angle that people write about authenticity in British-Indian food, when it does it well.
G - God, I want to go to an Asian pub so bad now. In my stupidity, I didn’t even know that was a thing.
Z - They’re incredible! You’ve been to a Sports bar…
G - I’ve been to a Sports bar and it was so fun. The food, that was the first time I ever ate Manchurian as a flavour.
Z - You need to tell the story properly, Gabrielle. We need to set the scene.
G - What’s the story?
Z - We were in Leicester, we’d just done a film screening, a proper art thing. We went out to Blue Peter in Leicester, and I remember telling a friend of ours from Leicester, we were at the Sports bar and they said which one and I said Blue Peter and they were like, are you out of your fucking mind? That’s so- you’re a woman, hello! For context, a lot of these Sports Bars are really very hyper-masculine Uncle spaces. So being a woman there is quite odd, you have to catch on to yourself a bit. I think they thought we were eating alone. We were having our little Veg Manchurian and then an Uncle in the corner starts singing! He’s having a little concert. And then we go upstairs, and there’s a banqueting hall. There’s a man singing into a microphone to a crowd of five people!
G - All the lights were blue. I remember that, it’s where the toilets were. What a vibe.
Z - What a vibe.
G - Such good food.
Z - I love a Sports bar. It was really good.
G - And there was a car outside, what was the registration? We took a picture.
Z - 123 ART or something. And it had a Live Laugh Love sticker as well.
G - It was just like, inviting us in. It was saying, you two, you can come in.
Z - I will say, that Leicester Sports bar aesthetic is not the same in London, it’s a lot more shitty.
G - It’s shittier in London or Leicester?
Z - Shittier in London. Leicester’s ones are a lot more glamorous, I think because Leicester is just like, Asian central. Every single person in Leicester is Gujarati, I don’t think anyone else exists in Leicester. White people really are in the minority. You think London is a minority majority city? Go to Leicester! Back to back Patels. I think there’s something about that concentration of Gujarati central. In London it’s different, Sports bars are in the suburbs, where it is kind of Asian central - places like Harrow, Kenton, Kingsbury. Even round where my Mum lives, which I’m not going to bait out on the podcast because some of you are nutters, even places like that, it is Asian central but still a bit more low key. I think Asian Londoners are just a bit different to say, Birmingham Asians or like, Leicester Asians. I say this as someone who lives with a Birmingham Asian, we’re just different. The way we are culturally conditioned and interact with our culture is just different.
G - Do you think you’ll write about food again? I know you alluded to making peace with it a bit, but if anyone is listening because they really enjoyed this text and they want more and they want you to cover other things, can they expect that from you???
Z - Well, I was going to say no, I don’t think I’ll write about it in this way. I don’t think I’m going to write, like, another- I think this was my main food-based grievance.
G - It’s dealt with.
Z - But I’ve written about it since, and I’ve got- I don’t know if I can actually say this? Because I don’t know if this is out. But I have written an essay about Sports bars for a reputable… it’s very exciting… TBC. I’ve written a text about Sports bars and I’m really pleased with it. But I think that’s maybe the way that I’ll write about food, not in this grievance based, or even that personal way. I’ve processed my thoughts out and I’m not just interested in food-based spaces, food-adjacent spaces. Saying that though, maybe I’ll just write an essay about blueberries. Just blueberries as a thing, a cultural phenomenon. The White Pube Sunday text after the next one will be a treatise on blueberries.
G - Have you ever had frozen blueberries? With your… you’re nodding, yeah.
Z - I think if you freeze any berry-based fruit, including grapes, in my mind, it’s very adjacent. This might be the most controversial thing I say in this episode. I believe that grapes are berries.
G - Erm…
Z - They’re a kind of berry.
G - What are grapes?
Z - That feels like I’m saying something like cereal is a kind of soup.
G - But what is grape? Blueberry is berry - blueBERRY - what is grape? This is going to be one of those moments that I edit and goes on Instagram. No one knows where this fits into the conversation so they listen to the whole podcast waiting for this moment and then they go - oh.
Z - They’re going to find out that grapes are actually a vegetable. If tomatoes are a fruit then grapes must be a vegetable.
G - What is grape?
… it’s a BERRY!
Z - Gasp!
G - A berry, typically green, purple or black, growing in clusters on a grapevine, eaten as fruit and used in making wine.
Z - I really thought that was a controversial statement, turns out I’m actually fucking correct. Calm down Zarina, it’s not that deep. I really think I’m like Miss Fucking Hot Take, and it turns out I’m just spitting pure truth.
G - Pure truth!
Z - They should get railings built around me like I’m a modern day buddha. I swear to god.
G - Grape is berry.
Z - Grape is a berry and cereal is a soup and…
G - On that note, thank you so much for listening. If you want to find the written version of the text Zarina read today it is on The White Pube, under the food section. If you enjoyed this and you want to listen to more, please let us know which old texts you’d like us to revisit. Thank you for listening, thank you especially to our Patreon supporters. We have a Patreon where you can support us at £1 a month. Our hope is that all those £1s add up, and that’s our wage. We did just start a Patron-exclusive Discord server, which now, for £1 a month, that’s pretty exciting stuff. You can argue about grapes in there..
Z - With us!
G - Directly.
Z - If you want to send us your annotated copies of our texts…
G - Put it in the Discord server. That’s ideal. We’ll start a channel that’s just annotated texts and we’ll just have it out. Then I’ll annotate your annotations and we’ll go from there. Thank you for listening and we’ll see you on the next episode of the podcast. Byeee!
Z - Byeeee!