Rasam e Identità

Il rasam è la risposta a tutto. O almeno, così mi è stato detto durante la mia infanzia, trascorsa in una famiglia vegetariana e di classe media, appartenente alla comunità di bramini tamil.
India, South Asia

Story by Janani Padmanabhan. Translated by Maria Grazia Calarco
Published on July 25, 2022.

This story is also available in GB de



Tamarindo. Curcuma. Pomodoro. Lenticchie gialle: in inglese, sono le quattro T (Tamarind. Turmeric. Tomato. Toor dal) alla base di quel toccasana bollente simile a un elisir che è il rasam. Un membro della mia comunità tamil guarderebbe questa ricetta e puntualizzerebbe con energia che bisognerebbe aggiungerci anche il pepe e il cumino, davanti a cui alzo le mani cortesemente. Il rasam (la parola deriva dal sanscrito ‘rasa’, che vuol succo ‘succo’) viene solitamente versato sul riso bollente con l’aggiunta di un po’ di burro chiarificato, dopodiché il povero commensale deve immediatamente affrontare la dura prova di mescolare e incorporare con le mani (e senza bruciarsi le dita) il riso bollente con il rasam, che è liquido e dalla consistenza simile a una zuppa.

Il rasam è un alimento lasciapassare per ogni evenienza. Un bambino che non sa masticare? Hai preso un raffreddore o hai mal di stomaco? Sei a corto di ingredienti nella dispensa? Il rasam è la risposta a tutto. O almeno, così mi è stato detto durante la mia infanzia, trascorsa in una famiglia vegetariana e di classe media, appartenente alla comunità di bramini tamil.  

Cosa ne penso del rasam? È vero che provo un affetto nostalgico verso di esso, ma non è la mia scelta ideale in una giornata tipo, soprattutto perché non è un alimento particolarmente veloce da preparare, saziante o nutrizionalmente ricco di per sé. Inoltre, il significato che questo piatto (e molti altri della mia tradizione culinaria) proietta sulla mia esistenza e sui miei privilegi, ha fatto sì che ne prendessi le distanze in misura considerevole. Nella parte restante di questo articolo, cerco di esaminare ulteriormente i miei sentimenti contrastanti verso il rasam attraverso le lenti di casta, significato sociale e potere. 

Per cominciare, devo riconoscere che, anche se i racconti sulle origini del rasam sono apocrifi, sembra esserci una tradizione comune che attribuisce la sua invenzione a un’antica leggenda popolare. La storia è questa: nel sedicesimo secolo a Madurai, una città nell’attuale Tamil Nadu, c’era un re il cui figlio si era ammalato e nessun medico riusciva a curarlo. Il re si mise alla ricerca di tutti gli esperti di medicina del regno. Un sacerdote (indicato come un bramino, secondo lo status della sua casta) si presentò con questo elisir carico di spezie, e guarì il principe. 

“Mangiavamo riso al rasam 3-4 volte a settimana confortati da una storia che ci dà un senso di interiorizzata superiorità sugli altri?

Questo racconto popolare sembra somigliare a molte altre leggende indiane dello stesso periodo, che celebrano le gesta eroiche di uomini appartenenti alle caste superiori in seguito a richieste da parte di intellettuali e/o reali. Questa storia sulle origini mi ha portato a mettere in discussione l’alta considerazione in cui il rasam è tenuto da me e dalla mia intera comunità, in quanto membri delle caste superiori ed essendo noi stessi dei privilegiati. Mangiavamo riso al rasam 3-4 volte a settimana confortati da una storia che ci dà un senso di interiorizzata superiorità sugli altri?

Questa sarebbe una risposta difficile da ottenere sinceramente in una conversazione. Gran parte del folclore popolare indiano (e probabilmente della politica odierna) è contaminato dall’attribuire i successi ottenuti ai membri delle caste superiori, mettendo così in ombra o rappresentando in modo errato le altre comunità che appartengono a caste “inferiori”, in particolare i Dalit. Le scelte alimentari sono un altro modo per rafforzare questa struttura di potere. Tra gli indiani, l’alimentazione vegetariana è intrinsecamente legata alle caste superiori e al braminismo e alle corrispondenti nozioni di purezza legate al consumo di carne, che disprezzano e guardano dall’alto in basso le comunità che non fanno lo stesso. In questo senso, l’idea del sociologo alimentare Claude Fischer sull’incorporazione (e cioè l’idea che gli organismi, in particolare gli esseri umani, mangino o consumino deliberatamente ciò che rappresenta esteriormente le loro credenze e le loro esistenze sociali) si conferma vera, considerando le gerarchie che le scelte alimentari hanno creato nella società indiana. 

Che la leggenda sia vera o no, il rasam è oggi un alimento popolare nel Tamil Nadu e nell’India meridionale, grazie alla reperibilità dei suoi ingredienti, i tempi ridotti di preparazione e il fatto che venga considerato una sorta di “superfood” nella comunità Tamil. E anche se in momenti sporadici di nostalgia di casa desidero il comfort del riso rasam e lo mangio con piacere, questa sensazione si associa al disagio di riconoscere la prossimità tra i miei gusti alimentari e la mia classe sociale. 


Referenze

Shanker, R. (2017, Novembre 19). Rasam, a taste of history and tradition. DT NEXT. Consultato il 23 October 2022, da https://www.dtnext.in/Lifestyle/Food/2017/11/18235008/1052610/Rasam-a-taste-of-history-and-tradition.vpf

Fischler, C. (1988). Food, self and identity. Social Science Information, 27(2), 275–292. https://doi.org/10.1177/053901888027002005 

Devarajan, A., & Mohanmarugaraja, M. K. (2017). A Comprehensive Review on Rasam: A South Indian Traditional Functional Food. NCBI. Published. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5628526/ 


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Food is a deeply cultural thing. If you enjoyed learning more about Janani's upper-caste Tamil Brahmin upbringing and its connection to Raman, we'd suggest you read Zhihao's story next: they write about the rice dish Ban and how it ties in with their Hakka identity. Or check out Neya's story about hosting themed dinner parties to stay connected during the COVID pandemic in the UK.

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Janani Padmanabhan

Janani Padmanabhan

Janani is an intersectional feminist and food enthusiast from India, currently residing in Berlin. She is deeply passionate about equality and safety for marginalized persons everywhere, and spends most of her time thinking about and working towards it. She is also a Master’s student at a public policy school in Berlin.

In her free time, Janani likes to experiment with food, volunteer, climb boulders and learn the guitar. She enjoys meeting new people and hearing their stories, and can be reachable via [email protected].

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