Rudyard Kipling appears to be on everyone’s radar at the moment. The Jungle Book, currently running in theatres across the country and based on the author’s work, is drawing in the crowds; and even as we write this, in Shimla, the Indian Institute of Advanced Study and the UK’s Kipling Society are holding a conference themed “Kipling in India: India in Kipling”.
What surprises us is that there have no announcements of Anglo-Indian food festivals, and neither are any on the horizon. After all, most restaurants that serve Anglo-Indian food, or try and evoke a sense of nostalgia for the Raj use the novelists and poet’s name, or some derivation thereof.
But, here’s the thing: even though he was born in Bombay — in 1865 — and spent some of his happiest years in India, including in Lahore and Allahabad, Kipling’s works, both journalistic and fiction, don’t really feature food, especially Indian. On the other hand, he seems to have been more interested in spirits. In From Sea To Sea, Kipling writes about the discovery of the Button Punch, in San Francisco, a drink similar to the Pisco Sour. And, he was also very particular about cheroots. “Above all,” he wrote, advising those travelling to San Francisco, a city he dearly loved, “he should bring with him thousands of cheroots — enough to serve him until he reaches ’Frisco. Singapur is the last place on the line where you can buy Burmas. Beyond that point wicked men sell Manila cigars with fancy names for ten, and Havanas for thirty-five cents. No one inspects your boxes ’till you reach ’Frisco. Bring, therefore, at least one thousand cheroots.’
However, Kipling’s works, one poem in particular, did inspire a popular sauce and many cocktails back in the early 1900s, and it didn’t have anything to do with India. Instead, the poem ‘Mandalay’ was set in the eponymous former Burmese capital.
Here are some lines:
By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin’ lazy at the sea,
There’s a Burma girl a-settin’, and I know she thinks o’ me;
For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the temple-bells they say:
“Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay! ”
Come you back to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay:
Can’t you ‘ear their paddles chunkin’ from Rangoon to Mandalay?
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin’-fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay!
But, as Andrew Selth wrote recently in the Indian Express, Kipling was in Burma only for a brief while. “Indeed, it could be claimed that Kipling’s impact on Western perceptions of Burma, now the country known as Myanmar, was almost as great as it was on foreign images of India… His iconic poem about a retired British soldier pining for a “neater, sweeter maiden in a cleaner, greener land” has attracted visitors to the country for over a century. The great irony, however, is that Kipling knew little about Burma, visited it only once, very briefly, and never went to the places that are most often associated with his name,” writes Selth, an adjunct associate professor at Griffith University and the Australian National University.
But his idealisation of Burma and Mandalay goaded marketers into action. Food company Heinz introduced its Mandalay Sauce in 1907, clearly intending to cash in on the exotic appeal of the city and the Orient in general. The Mandalay sauce, according to Heinz, was based on a lost recipe discovered by an English army officer in the Far East, and “composed of choicest fruits, vegetables and spices of foreign and domestic origin”. The company encouraged prospective patrons to have it with hot or cold meats, fish, game, soups and gravies. H J Heinz, writes Selth, “invested heavily in his Mandalay Sauce, which sought to replicate some of the “spicy garlic smells described by Kipling in his ballads.”
The name ‘Mandalay’ was also used for cocktails created around the early 1900s. One goes by the name of ‘A Night in Old Mandalay’, and it is a blend of rum, lime juice, orange juice, and ginger ale.