or second-generation Indian immigrants, maintaining a link to the native country of their parents can be fraught with complexity. Life in America is the only one that many IndianAmericans have ever known; yet there still exists a desire to bridge the cultural gap between the United States and the country of their heritage. And while each immigrant’s experience will always be unique and intensely personal, one prominent IndianAmerican is hoping to forge a connection to Indian culture with an unconventional new cookbook.
Sri Rao is a filmmaker, author, and lifestyle expert who was born in Pennsylvania to parents who immigrated from Andhra Pradesh, India. His 320-page cookbook, Bollywood Kitchen: Home-Cooked Indian Meals Paired With Unforgettable Bollywood Films, was released earlier this month, and it’s already being hailed as a unique amalgam of Rao’s two passions – food and cinema. Each of the book’s 69 updated Indian recipes is paired with a contemporary film from India, usually a lavish, Hindi language musical production commonly referred to as a Bollywood movie. Rao hopes that by including Bollywood films in his cookbook alongside traditional Indian cuisine that has been tweaked for U.S. taste buds, such as masala crusted salmon and a spiced hamburger, he can introduce the culture of India to a whole new generation of Americans.
In a recent interview with NWI, Rao explained the connection between Indian food and Indian cinema and how they can connect to second-generation immigrants. “Both have bold flavors and colors and plenty of drama and taste … up until now, Indian restaurants represented foods that were very specific to one region and the way they made it is the way they made it back home. Now what’s happened, we who were born and raised here are asking what happened to the food we ate at home. I’ve never had tandoori or tiki chicken in my house growing up … seventy-five percent of the recipes in the book you can make with ingredients you’ll probably have in your pantry.” [See Cookbook Inspired by Bollywood Gives Home Chefs a Taste of India, by Jane Ammeson, NWI, 01.Nov.2017.]
Rao also drew on his experience working in Bollywood as inspiration for Bollywood Kitchen. After starting out as a screenwriter for American television and cranking out scripts for networks including ABC, NBC, and Fox, he decided to take on the Indian film industry. After penning the 2016 romantic melodrama Baar Baar Dekho, Rao received international attention as the first American to write a mainstream Bollywood film. Although the film floundered at Indian box offices, Rao has several projects in the works for American audiences, including a pilot for ABC featuring Indian actress Priyanka Chopra.
In the meantime, Rao hopes that his cookbook will help pave the way for a wider awareness of Indian culture in the U.S. “Many second-generation immigrants like me are excited to see aspects of our culture – like yoga and meditation – enter the mainstream here in America,” he recently told Little India. “Now it’s important to us that these concepts get translated in a respectful, authentic way – so that they’re not misappropriated or stripped of their cultural context.” [See Masala Mix: Sri Rao Stirs Up Indian Passions With Bollywood Kitchen, by Pallavi Srivastava, Little India, 10.Oct.2017.]
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