New school of food: SBS takes a pioneering step with India Unplated

For all of Australia’s food-rich culture, Indian cuisine still remains an unoffered course, or so says MasterChef Australia alumnus Sandeep Pandit who, alongside TV chef Adam D’Sylva and Enter Via Laundry’s Helly Raichura, hosts SBS Food’s India Unplated

The 10-part series celebrates the assorted cuisines across the subcontinent and explores the beauty of a different region or state in each episode. Their goal? To take their audience on a delicious adventure across the country and present the western world with the myriad of untold food stories while giving a flavour of home to those who have long wished for it on Australian screens. 

The trio, each a renowned name in the Australian culinary landscape, brings a distinguished voice and twist to the show. They cook their versions of local Indian dishes, recount personal food stories and showcase a number of different techniques, with recipes often fusing Indian ingredients and a range of native Australian produce, making the show close to home for Indian Australians in more ways than just one.

“Absolutely none of this is non-Indian because that is exactly how our India is – with beautiful fusions and diverse voices making it whole,” says host Sandeep Pandit. 

He notes that each host brings something integral to the kitchen and jokes, "I am the old Indian grandmother who loves the traditional techniques and stories, Helly is the working mom who strives to make a beautiful meal out of whatever she has on hand and Adam is the foreign uncle who brings the more fancy restaurant food culture that's now prevalent in India". 

Hosts Helly Raichura, Adam D’Sylva and Sandeep Pandit on the set of India Unplated (Source: SBS)

Long has the western world simplified Indian food, limiting thousands of dishes to a restricted panel of Butter Chicken, Curry, Daal or "Dahl" and Palak Paneer. Through encapsulating a food journey from the far north to the southern tip and all the regions in-between, Sandeep believes that India Unplated sparks conversations around the complexity and variety of Indian food.

The promise does ring true, for now, as the series is the first of its kind on Australian screens and pulls attention to acknowledge how diverse and boundless Indian cuisine is. India Unplated also vividly portrays an overview of the rich history behind each region and dish, welcoming everyone to dive deep into learning the varying influences that make the country and the cuisine fascinating. 

“There is this concept that the western world has about Indian food which is tainted with curry. By making a primetime series on Indian regional food and giving it the space, the platform, that Indians across Australia have yearned for makes India Unplated special."

“It seemed that over time people forgot that there was a massive Indian population living in Australia who weren’t getting the representation or the content that is due to them. It was often just a sidenote or a passing mention. But now, with the series, we’ve kicked off what is, I hope, a range of shows that further this conversation and showcase the beauty of Indian cuisine. It is a clear sign that people are listening, and this is just the start."

 

Sandeep also opens up on the necessity of showcasing South Asian food and culture in the mainstream media and the potential shift in mindset it offers. 

“We may not acknowledge it, but media plays a huge role in creating our mindset. Through this representation, it is showing a broader Australian audience that there are is a country called India and there are people from there living in Australia. That is the first mark. MasterChef has considerably worked on that, for example, now you don't have contests saying they are making a chickpea curry but instead actually calling the dish chole. This movement has gradually started over the past years and is now kicking off."

He further adds that representation, or rather the lack of it, plays a huge role in Indians navigating their identity and community in Australia. "We long thought we need to change to gain acknowledgement - we need to change our names and our ways and what we call our culture" and hopes that through representation and by embracing the culture, Indians here are proud of where they have come up and they, in turn, create spaces to empower those around them. 

Sandeep Pandit ranked 11 on MasterChef Australia in 2019 (Source: SBS)

Sandeep maintains that this lack of representation has undeniably translated into the Indian culinary scene in Australia, which has been "gut-punching and heart-wrenching bad". He says the lack of knowledge of the culture and the simplification of Indian cuisine in Australia is "a big disservice to one of the most refined, complex and diverse cuisines on the planet". 

"Food is undeniably a vital factor in everyone's lives and there exists a place, a need, for a genuine effort behind Indian food where people are not settling for what they are getting but instead are fed in a way that makes them feel acknowledged, welcomed and accepted."

 

Sandeep remains hopeful in the possibility of building from where we are at and notes that slowly but surely, Indian cuisine is getting the limelight it has long deserved. 


Indian Unplated premiered on Thursday, September 23 and has since aired three episodes exploring cuisines from Bengal, Assam and Gujrat. The series runs every Thursday at 8 pm and is also be available to stream on SBS On Demand.


Pranjali Sehgal is a writer and journalist based in Melbourne. She is a member of SAARI's Editorial Team and can be contacted at pranjali@saaricollective.com.au. You can connect with her via LinkedIn