I have been obsessed with attending weddings ever since childhood. I really don’t care about who weds whom. I don’t even bother standing in a long queues just to give an envelop containing Rs. 10 n + 1 ( n belonging to the set of positive integers) . I hate posing for a photograph with two strangers in front of lights whose intensity would put floodlights of cricket stadiums to shame. I simply do the thing that matters to me the most – head straight to the food counter, the moment I enter the hall – without even a hint of shame . 99 percent of the people present ( i.e everyone except the bride and the groom’s immediate family) at the reception come to do exactly the same thing, but are ashamed to admit it.In fact, if you ever want to distinguish Indians from others in a crowd, the magic words to be used are ‘free’ or ‘food’. Indians jump at anything that sounds even remotely close to any of these words and if used together , stampede management squads might be required.
Being a country with probably the highest per-capita marriage expenditure in the world , you can expect to see a lavish dinner even from households who struggle to meet even basic daily needs. Hence, the prospect of such nice delicious food makes us ever ready to attend weddings , no matter how hectic my schedule for the day is. Growing up in a traditional south Indian house, with daily meals consisting typically of rice, curd, rasam , sambhar , vegetable curry , idli or dosa, I have hence always preferred north Indian wedding dinners, where you have lavish delicious buffet dinners and a menu so elaborate that you have to plan what you eat, in order not to fill your tummy too early and miss out on a majority of the dishes. I have never liked the south Indian wedding food menu. The reason is that the south Indian menu essentially consists of the same things I eat at home, thus offering no scope of a refreshing new flavour or dish to look forward to.
However, after attending hundreds of North Indian buffets and a few south Indian dinners, I have recently realized that a south Indian wedding food system is much more elaborately thought out and planned than what it seems . While its north Indian counterpart, invariably offers more choice, variety and taste, the south Indian variety has these clear advantages , which can never be overlooked :
(1) Health : A typical south Indian wedding dinner has all components of a healthy meal – minimal oil and fats used for cooking , appropriate fiber and nutrients. The food is also hygienically served in a banana leaf, which is known to be a good practice, besides being easy to dispose. Moreover, the menu encompasses all the four basic tastes – bitterness ( Yes, you have karela fries on the menu !!) , sourness , sweetness and saltiness , in perfect balance, thus giving the ultimate exercise to your tongue and other senses. There are even portions of flavoured ginger paste to aid in digestion. Compare this to the tasty, yet heavy and fatty North Indian food, with excessive usage of oil/ghee and spices. The following day invariably becomes a frustrating day for your bowel system
(2) Personal Attention : Although nowadays almost all Indian wedding dinners have begun to adopt this , the practice of coming to you and asking you whether you want something more, is essentially south Indian. It makes you feel important, it treats you with much more respect. Buffet is more like “‘ we know you only care about food. So go to that corner there, eat and leave. We dont care as well. ” Although true, we don’t like to hear the truth.
(3) Timing : South Indian weddings are typically held early in the morning or just before noon. Thus , food is served in the afternoon as lunch in comparison to the north Indian counterpart which serve supper/dinner. The lunches are a no-nonsense affair, held in batches according to dinner hall seating capacity, and you are expected to eat quickly without talking and leave, making way for the next batch of people to begin their lunch. The entire exercise is generally over in around an hour. People eat quietly, then leave for work. Contrary to this, north Indian dinners are very disorganized, with people coming in when they wish to, talking more, eating less. And because the dinner is held too late, not only are you tired by the end of the day, it also affects your work next day.
(4) Efficient Supply Chain : I find the system of food being served far more efficient than the self-service method used in North Indian buffets. Although labor intensive, the servers are really efficient and quick in serving food. It is akin to an assembly line for food with minimal bottlenecks. In order to ask for extras, all you need to give is a signal, which is relayed almost instantaneously to the source of your desired food item , who arrives in a jiffy. Buffet on the other hand is very clumsy. Because of unpredictable arrival times of people for dinner, you often have to face situations where you need to stand in queue just to take a single dish. I have seen that even multiple counters of the same food item does little to solve this problem.
(5) Wastage : Last , but not the least, food wastage in south Indian weddings is far lesser that the north Indian ones. South Indian menus don’t try to please everyone through variety, but through quality. Sort of like mother’s food, which has only two choices – take it or leave it. The North Indian menu, in its attempt to please everyone’s taste and liking, results in heavy wastage despite proper estimation and planning. Not to the forget that they are damn expensive as well.
I still prefer a north Indian dinner over a south Indian any day, because my tongue rules over my brain. But then, I feel it is time the north Indian wedding system learnt from the south and gives me a chance to eat healthy and delicious food in an efficient way.
PS: Use of the words North Indian and South Indian is due to a large number of observations by the author. It refers to families of that origin and not the location of the weddings