Foodistan for Thought: Reality Cooking Show Blends Friendly Foes India and Pakistan

"Foodistan" will unite chefs from India and Pakistan for the ultimate reality cooking contest (Photo: NDTV)

"Foodistan" will unite chefs from India and Pakistan for the ultimate reality cooking contest (Photo: NDTV)

Take two sets of recipes, add a dash of ego, the heavy hand of a TV production team, and mix in two nuclear superpowers. What do you get? “Foodistan.”

That’s right–Pakistan and India are going head-to-head in an innovative competition designed to highlight the cooking and commonalities of both nations. With the ever-growing popularity of cooking shows, be it “Iron Chef” or “Top Chef,” Foodistan will bank on the never-ending rivalry between the two South Asian nations. While Indo-Pak viewers most often tune in to catch the blurring movement of their favorite cricketers, the producers of Foodistan are confident that quick actions in the kitchen will have folks geared up to root for their respective nations three days a week. “Love for food is something that binds the two nations,” said Smeeta Chakrabarti, CEO of NDTV Lifestyle, one of the channels broadcasting the show.

Foodistan features professional chefs from both Pakistan and India, who will have their work carved out for them as challengers face new recipes and ingredients. Though the typical “Indian” restaurant in your average U.S. city might make one think differently, the major culinary differences between North and South Indian, and Pakistani cuisine, will have these foodies fumbling.

“As Pakistanis we know nothing about South Indian food,” said contestant Poppy Agha, who is also the head of a culinary institute in Karachi. “There is a rivalry, but in this program we all came together. I learned so much.” Manish Mehrotra of the Indian team agreed: “From the Pakistanis, we learned a lot about their treatment of meat. They do it very nicely…with different techniques.” Still, while differences will be highlighted, producers avoided potential religious and cultural controversies by expunging beef and pork from the list of ingredients.

While all in the name of “a common passion for good food”, these top chefs have plenty of ego packed along with their knives. Juicy tidbits leaked post-production include one chef walking out of the contest halfway through, while another “more or less spontaneously combusts” on camera.

These appetizing details come from the blog of Editorial Director of the Hindustan Times Vir Sanghi: “I am just one of the three judges (one Indian, one Pakistani and one representing the country that split India into two and created Pakistan).” The other judges Sanghi refers to are Pakistani-French actress Sonya Jehan and British chef Merrilees Parker. “It is an hour-long show and the chefs are the real stars.”

Foodistan premieres on Jan. 23 on Geo TV in Pakistan and NDTV Lifestyle in India. Move over, Padma Lakshmi. There’s more than one South Asian in this kitchen.

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Sabeen H. Ahmad is the Social Media Editor at Divanee.