Monday, November 12, 2012

Reel Asian Review: Dal Puri Diaspora


Like most Torontonians, the cold winter months makes director Richard Fung long for the warm climate of his homeland of Trinidad. To combat the seasonal blues, Fung likes to find solace in his local roti restaurant. It is this love for dal puri, a particular type of roti shell that is common in Trinidad and other parts of the Caribbean, which leads Fung on a globetrotting journey to discover the true origin of dal puri roti and how it eventually made its way to Canada.

Fung’s first stop is Trinidad where his quest reveals more than simple roti recipes. In order to truly understand dal puri, he needed to understand the historical roots behind it. Fung’s research uncovers a path that leads all the way back to the African slaves and the Indian migrants who were brought to Trinidad to work on plantations. Fung highlights how British colonialists viewed the African Slaves as being responsible for the decline of their plantations whereas the Indian workers were viewed as the crops saviours. This ultimately had lasting impacts on both the social hierarchy and racial tensions between the Indians and Africans on the island.

How does all of this relate to dal puri? Well when the Indian migrants first arrived in Trinidad many of them had bindles filled with items, such as foods and spices, that were foreign to the region at the time. The British colonialist allowed them to keep several aspects of their culture opposed to forcing them to change like they did the African slaves. Over time Trinidad became a melting pot of cultures especially in regards to food. With the strong Indian connection to dal puri, Fung eventually travels to India in hopes of pinpointing the exact origin of the dish. This proves to be far more difficult than he anticipates as he quickly realizes that India not only has several variations on dal puri but none seem to taste like the ones in Trinidad.

In Dal Puri Diaspora, Fung does a good job of documenting both the historical and cultural relevance of the dal puri dish. One of the recurring themes in the film is how foods, like dal puri can unite people regardless of their social backgrounds. At times though, Fung weighs down the film with an overabundance of information. It becomes a bit hard to keep track of all the terminology that is referenced in the film. Fortunately, there are enough engaging moments in the film to satisfy both foodies and roti novices alike. Fung even tries to take up the challenge himself and make dal puri to rather amusing effects. One warning, do not watch this film on an empty stomach as seeing all the various foods on screen will have you hunting for your local roti shop.

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