Millet trilogy: India serves G20 leaders a vegetarian dinner

Millet crisps — twice over — and millet pudding: the G20 leaders were served a vegetarian gala dinner on Saturday showcasing Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s favourite grain.

Very different from the usual meat-heavy diplomatic fare, the all-vegetarian menu presented after Saturday’s summit proceedings in New Delhi was rich in India’s flavourful spices, with a main course of “jackfruit galette served with glazed forest mushrooms”, accompanied by “little millet crisp and curry leaf tossed Kerala red rice”.

Starters included “foxtail millet leaf crisps topped with a yoghurt sphere”, and dessert was a cardamon-scented millet pudding.

India is the world’s largest producer and second-largest exporter of millet, a gluten-free grain which can grow on marginal land with limited water, and Modi’s government has been working to boost its production and consumption since coming to power in 2014.

It was India’s suggestion that the United Nations declared 2023 as the International Year of Millets.

“To give the tastes of millets grown across India to our esteemed guests, we have included a few dishes in the menu today,” the menu read.

Millet grows in half the time of wheat, and uses 30 per cent of the  water of rice. The menu called it a “super food”.

“Millets can grow in adverse and arid conditions,” it said, adding they can “play an important role in addressing issues such as climate change and food security.”

Millet was a staple food in many regions of India for thousands of years, and was eaten as porridge, flatbread, dosa pancakes and with lentils. 

But the “green revolution” that started in India in the 1960s saw the production of millet fall as hybrid high-yield varieties of wheat and rice gained prominence.

As a result, millet began to be seen as the food of the rural poor.

Now, though, restaurant chefs are boosting the grain through fusion recipes like millet tortillas, pita pockets and pancakes, and microbreweries are offering millet-based beers.

India exported $64 million of millet in 2021, a sharp jump from earlier years.

Invitations to the dinner were sent in the name of the President of Bharat — the name for India that Modi and many Indians use and an ancient Sanskrit word.

The phrasing prompted rumours that official usage of the country’s English name would be scrapped, again highlighted by the Hindu nationalist Modi speaking behind a “Bharat” country name plate on Saturday.

The menu reinforced the point.

“A medley of traditions, customs and climate, Bharat is diverse in many ways,” it said. “Taste connects us.”


Originally published as Millet trilogy: India serves G20 leaders a vegetarian dinner

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