July 13, 2023
Few are immune to the smell and sight of kebabs or paneer tikka plopped onto silver cardboard plates, often washed down with condensation-coated bottles of Thums-Up or Limca. People quickly pop these smoky nuggets of meat into their mouths, followed by magenta rings of sirka pyaaz, or pickled onions dusted in chaat masala. Green chutney is welcome, but not necessary, as the tikke-shikke are usually seasoned with not just one, but two marinades that hold their own and unlock worlds of flavor.
Most scientists agree that humans started to control fire at least 400,000 years ago. But new evidence suggests that our use of fire goes back further. About a million years ago, Homo erectus had its first taste of cooked meat — the result of an accident, according to some accounts. Over time, the practice of grilling meat around the world birthed cooking styles the likes of Brazilian churrasco, Southeast Asian satay, Greek souvlaki, Turkish shish, Jamaican jerk, Persian kebab, and Levantine shawarma.
In the U.S., the term barbecue generally brings to mind summer and grilling, burgers, hot dogs, and sticky-sweet stacks of ribs. It’s easy to forget that South Asian barbecue, too, is a prized art form, consisting of far more than tandoori chicken.