On habanero dosas, platforms and makers

If you haven’t had a habanero mango salsa dosa, you haven’t lived. But then again, if you had a habanero mango salsa dosa, you may not have lived to read this. It’s lethal.


Image courtesy of A Foodie’s Rhapsody. Worth reading the post that went with it.

A habanero dosa. A classic South Indian dish, the rice and daal pancake, infused with one of the most potent symbols of Amazonas and ancient Mexico, the habanero chili. In-your-face hot from the get-go, enough to make your ears pop. Once you get over the initial shock, you learn how to navigate the dish: a small mouthful, dipped in sambaar or chutney, a sip of water, and off you go again, savouring the taste and buffeted by wave upon wave of endorphins. Serious stuff. And remember, if you wear contact lenses, wash your hands thoroughly after eating the dosa. Thoroughly.

In its own way, the fusion is a renaissance. Columbus went to find India to get to the spices that the land was famed for. He missed by a bit, but so what? He found spices nevertheless, and brought them back. Amongst the spices he brought back was the chili pepper. Vasco da Gama then took that spice to India soon after. And now India produces most of the world’s chillies, and consumes most of it as well. Odd, isn’t it, that Columbus, looking for spices to bring back from India, inadvertently landed up taking a spice to India, one that is now synonymous with the cuisine of the country.


Image courtesy Wikipedia, what a wonderful resource. Please donate to the Wikimedia Foundation.

As you’ve probably noticed by now, I love food. That at least partly explains why I gave this TED talk, and why I’m busy writing a book on related subjects. As I mention in the talk, Calcutta was an incredible place for food, particularly street food. If you want to get an idea of the incredible choices available there, Heaven’s Garden has a good summary. My all-time favourite remains the Nizam’s kati roll, but the puchkas, the shingharas, the jhal moori, the aloo tikki, even the dry roasted peanuts with chillies and onions are dishes to be reckoned with. They’re all described in the post I referred to earlier.

nizams 5

Isn’t it amazing, how ingredients and dishes and even whole cuisines migrate all over the world pretty much without let or hindrance? Every one of us can choose where we enter the process of making food. We can buy the raw ingredients and “make everything from scratch”. Fresh herbs and spices, fresh vegetables, fresh meat (if we’re on the carnivorous or even omnivorous side). Fresh everything. If we felt so inclined, we could buy some of the ingredients pre-prepared, as purpose-built modules, with different levels of preparation. Ingredients that have been cleaned, peeled, diced, chopped, pureed, minced, whatever. Ingredients that have been combined with other ingredients and parboiled, part-cooked, cooked. Whole dishes. Whole meals. You can watch the dishes being prepared from scratch; you can buy them frozen; or you can even go to a restaurant and have someone else do all the heavy lifting. And you have a choice of restaurant, from the fast-food pile-them-high-sell-them-cheap to the Michelin-starred see-and-be-seen oases of luxury.

There are few barriers to learning how to do all this. There are no laws that prevent you from watching someone cook something, and then proceeding to copy that process from start to finish. I know many cooks quite well, and without exception they’re eager to explain, to help, to teach. And to learn as well, they listen to your views and your criticisms and not just your praises. Some of the cooks write books about cooking: I have maybe 50 such books at home, signed by the author/cook. Many of them were given to me gratis; and in almost every case I landed up buying many copies of the book to give to others. The web is also a great place to learn how to cook: there are amazing recipes available via most search engines, great videos on YouTube, and wonderful sites like epicurious.

Access to ingredients at multiple levels. Access to instructions and advice at multiple levels. The right to change and vary and adapt at will. The right to observe and learn and imitate. The ability to propagate all this. And the continued and continuous choice as to where precisely you want to enter the process of finding, making, preparing, consuming.

Much of life is about performance. What you do matters.

Much of art and culture is also about performance. What people do matters.

In some ways, cooks are like musicians and filmmakers and artists and novelists and poets. But at least in one way cooks are different…. they make money principally by performing regularly, not by performing once and using the power of once-meaningful and now-corrupt law to enforce a market.

Our children, and their children, are growing up at a time when ubiquity of access to connectivity, compute power and storage is transforming their lives, enfranchising the disenfranchised. And that’s causing a lot of disruption to hitherto stable markets. The response of many of those markets has been to try and hold on to the past for as long as possible, often by using their lobbying power, a power the new generations don’t yet have.

But they will have, soon, and those companies that choose to control and suppress the maker generation will find it hard to sustain their business.

Empowered people expect to operate in spectrums of choice, much like we see in the world of food. Businesses will have to learn how to provide those choices of access, entry, and participation. Businesses will have to transform themselves into organisms that reflect natural platforms and ecosystems, allowing their customers to engage with them in a variety of ways, with the freedom to come and go as they please. As in the rest of life, choice comes at a price. Change comes at a price.

Tomorrow’s successful companies will be those that understand this need to focus on the cost of change; for too long, we’ve built monolithic structures where the cost of change soon exceeds the value of change. Instead, companies will now have to concern themselves with building open ecosystems where customers, partners and staff can all engage and adapt at the speed of the market they’re in.

The Maker Generation have been doing this for a while, disrupting the music and TV and film and publishing businesses, and having to put up with a whole slew of responses, ranging from the introduction of short-term frictions like DRM all the way to the structured and focused criminalisation of entire generations that is the aim of the SOPAs, PIPAs and ACTAs of yesteryear.

The Maker Generation are now in the marketplace, and they’re transforming business in every market. They know what they want, they know what to expect, they know how to change what is offered to what is needed.

The Maker Generation are about Making. They’re about making in complex adaptive ecosystems. They’re about making in platforms, particularly multi-sided platforms, open wherever possible.

2013. Welcome to the Year of the Platform. [More to follow].

6 thoughts on “On habanero dosas, platforms and makers”

  1. An absorbing read. Thank you for sharing it.

    Boundaries – interesting how they dissolve in the world of food and music. Great point about how there are no laws when it comes to cooking. But, perhaps our personal bias prevents us from adopting/adapting some of the ingredients into our kitchens? For example – it is interesting how in Tamil kitchens (traditional kind) there is a distinction made between “naatu” (native) vs. English vegetables. And how in turn during “auspicious festivals or rituals” they prefer to cook with “naatu” vegetables. This point was made by a Tamilian mami during a wedding ceremony. Wonder if moving away from you “native” place and traveling changes your perspective and that in turn helps you venture and try new dishes and cook new kinds of dishes?


  2. the biggest disruption from “ubiquity of access”? governments …. watch them all go crazy in 2013 trying to control the uncontrollable.

    enjoy the shift.

    now, back to my dosa…

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