Pakistan-India Rivalry Extends To TV Food Fight

Steve Inskeep and David Greene take a look into Foodistan, a new TV show that pits Pakistani and Indian chefs against each other. The first season finishes up this week.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Afghanistan, of course, has often been caught up in the bitter rivalry between two of its neighbors: Pakistan and India. Those two nations have contended against each other since winning independence in 1947. In bad times, they fight wars.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

In better times, Pakistan and India send their national cricket teams to play each other, and now they're taking their rivalry to an entirely new level.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOODISTAN")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: The knives are out. The battle lines have been drawn. It's time to go to war.

INSKEEP: The war is in the kitchen. A new reality TV show on Indian television pits chefs and cuisines from the two countries against each other.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOODISTAN")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: You can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. But do join the feast on "Foodistan."

INSKEEP: "Foodistan" looks a lot like "Iron Chef America," with celebrity judges watching the competition.

GREENE: And the competitors face certain handicaps. Some ingredients are forbidden, others are mandatory.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOODISTAN")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: A game-changer: the bounteous banana.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: My memories of banana is having it in a milkshake, and that's probably about it. And also, I'm a little worried now.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Ahmed?

AHMED: In my whole career, I've never cooked banana in the food, except in desserts.

INSKEEP: Now, this program is billed as a battle between Pakistani and Indian food, though we should point out the differences can be subtle. Within living memory, Pakistan and India were part of the same country.

GREENE: Some of the same dishes can be found across the subcontinent, but Pakistani chef Poppy Agha, who's competing on tonight's semifinals, says there are local variations.

POPPY AGHA: The greatest differences that you're going to find is regional cookery in Pakistan versus regional cookery in India.

GREENE: And there are different dishes in different regions, according to Indian food writer Madhur Jaffrey.

MADHUR JAFFREY: Pabda mach, which is a steamed river fish. That would be very Indian, because Bengal is in India. And if you take chapli kabobs, beef kabob that are fried in the fat of fantailed sheep. Now, to me, that is Pakistani.

INSKEEP: Now, in what may be a positive turn for bilateral food relations, chefs on the TV show have teamed up and traded cooking secrets. Pakistani contestant Poppy Agha even received some sympathy and help from a rival Indian.

AGHA: I fell very ill halfway through the shoot. I got this horrible, horrible flu. And chef Manish Mehrotra called me up and he said should I make you soup and send it from my home?

GREENE: Still, competition comes first, and by the show's end this Wednesday, only one country will be able to claim victory.

(SOUNDBITE OF "FOODISTAN" THEME SONG)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing in foreign language) Let's see who makes it better...

GREENE: You can find links to the show and also winning dishes on NPR's food blog, the Salt.

(SOUNDBITE OF "FOODISTAN" THEME SONG)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing in foreign language)

GREENE: This is NPR News.

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