Indian

Today’s Bizarro:

A long-standing and often troublesome ambiguity, but rarely an issue in restaurants, since there are few restaurants specializing in Native American cuisine.

From NOAD2, on the ambiguity of the adjective Indian:

1 of or relating to the indigenous peoples of America.

2 of or relating to India or to the subcontinent comprising India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.

NOAD2 has an extensive usage note. Highlights:

Indian, meaning ‘native of America before the arrival of Europeans,’ is objected to by many who now favor Native American. There are others (including many members of these ethnic groups), however, who see nothing wrong with Indian or American Indian, which are long-established terms… The terms Amerind and Amerindian, once proposed as alternatives to Indian, are used in linguistics and anthropology, but have never gained widespread use.

And from the Britannica:

From the time of Columbus and the late 15th century forward, the Spaniards and Portuguese called the peoples of the Americas “Indians” — that is, inhabitants of India. Not only is the term erroneous by origin, but it did not correspond to anything in the minds of the indigenous people. They had no word meaning “inhabitant of the Western Hemisphere,” and most of them seem not to have adopted any equivalent even after centuries of contact.

In the world of food, there are restaurants offering “American Indian” food, meaning both American and (South Asian) Indian food, and a great many that offer “American Indian” food, meaning U.S.-style (South Asian) Indian food (British Indian restaurants, Australian Indian restaurants, etc., have their own styles). In addition, there are West Indian restaurants, offering Caribbean cuisine, quite different from (South Asian) Indian food and also from Native American food.

On Native American food, from Wikipedia:

Native American cuisine includes all food practices of the indigenous peoples of the Americas. Modern-day native peoples retain a rich culture of traditional foods, some of which have become iconic of present-day Native American social gatherings (for example, frybread). Foods like cornbread, turkey, cranberry, blueberry, hominy and mush are known to have been adopted into the cuisine of the United States from Native American groups. In other cases, documents from the early periods of contact with European, African, and Asian peoples allow the recovery of food practices which passed out of popularity.

Especially in the Southwest, Native American cuisine combines with elements of Southwestern and Mexican cuisines, so that “American Indian” restaurants there are likely to offer fusion cuisine. But then there’s a restaurant in central Oklahoma operated by the Citizen Potawatomi Nation; a fast/casual restaurant in Denver, Tocabe: An American Indian Eatery; and a relatively upscale restaurant Salmon n’ Bannock in Vancouver BC offering Native American Indian food. Undoubtedly there are more, and they will reflect the foods of local tribes, which of course differ hugely from place to place.

Still, restaurants offering Native American food are vastly outnumbered by the omnipresent (South Asian) Indian restaurants, so the man in the Bizarro cartoon is rightly nonplussed at being served the former when he was expecting the latter.

One Response to “Indian”

  1. Stephen Anderson Says:

    Long ago (late 70’s) when I was doing fieldwork on Kwakwa’la on Vancouver island, there was a restaurant in Vancouver called Muckamuck (Chinook jargon for ‘food, eat’ I believe) that served native northwest coast food. One of their specialties was “The best parts of the salmon,” a plate with pieces of salmon cheek, belly, other bits of the fish that don’t usually feature in European cuisine. They also had dried fish with oolichan oil (an incredibly strong starting substance that’s central to native diets in the winter), Indian ice cream (frothed soapberries, extremely bitter and not much like ice cream except visually) and other stuff. Although native people in the area generally agreed the food was good, and authentic, there was some pushback against the restaurant: largely, if I’m not mistaken, because the people who ran it were Danish!

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