How a Swedish travel writer’s love for South Indian food turned Bengaluru into his home

In his new book ‘Digesting India: A Travel Writer’s Sub-Continental Adventures With The Tummy’, Swedish author Zac O'Yeah writes about his love for South India

ByMarina Paulose

Published Jul 15, 2023 | 10:00 AMUpdatedJul 15, 2023 | 10:00 AM

Zac O'Yeah South India cuisine

The endless potpourri of delectable cuisines in India has attracted hordes of people around the world to savour our food. Some have even confessed to falling in love with India and the food so much that they found permanent residence here.

Swedish travel writer and author Zac O’Yeah is one such lover of Indian cuisine. His love for it is evident from his latest project, Digesting India: A Travel Writer’s Sub-Continental Adventures With The Tummy. The book is a memoir chronicling O’Yeah’s several culinary adventures and the accompanying gastronomical mishaps.

At an event hosted by IIHS City Scripts, on 12 July, O’Yeah, who has been living in Bengaluru for over three decades, shared his culinary experiences, and narrated hilarious accounts with a focus on South India.

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The chase for a good book

Zac O'Yeah

O’Yeah announced that ‘Digesting India’ is his swansong to writing about food. (Marina Paulose/SouthFirst)

After announcing that Digesting India is his swansong, owing to his health, O’Yeah said, “I began writing this book when the pandemic started and lockdowns were the norm. For three decades now, I have been writing about travel and food in India; the pandemic changed things completely. Travel was no more an option. So, the next obvious step for me was to look back at my travels and analyse them.”

Unwinding with a good drink, stellar food, and a nice book, O’Yeah shares, is his idea of relaxing. But when he scouted bookshops to find such a book, he was only met with disappointment.

“I thought maybe I should just write one myself; about simply travelling in India, enjoying life and exploring different cuisines. For me, travelling and eating in India has been a way for me to know and understand the country.”

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The North-South food divide

O’Yeah’s book is loaded with culinary experiences from his travels to the north of India as well. And yet, he prefers South Indian food.

“If you go to a restaurant like Karim’s in Delhi and order a meat dish, it will be swimming in oil. You have to wade through the layers of oil to get to the food. If I had continued living there, I would have had a heart attack a long time ago!” he chortles.

While he applauded the distinction of North Indian food, O’Yeah admitted that he was attracted by the local traditions associated with South Indian food.

“Each dish has its subtlety which I find charming. Here, not everything is doused in oil. It’s healthier, more wholesome and feels lighter,” the author shared.

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Rooting for South Indian food

South Indian food

South India’s nutritious tradition with food is why O’Yeah finds it a healthier option compared to the North Indian cuisine. (Deepal Tamang/Unsplash)

Assuring the audience that he was not being dismissive about North Indian food, he explained, “My comfort food is a plate of hot dal-roti. But, South Indian food has healthier options as the region has a nutritious tradition, and one need not worry about overeating or indigestion.”

Through his expeditions, O’Yeah said he had encountered many folks who dismissed South Indian cuisine as simply being vegetarian fare.

“There is a lot of non-veg going on here as well, though it’s not swimming in as much oil as in North India. In many parts of Tamil Nadu, you will get all kinds of meat. Mangaluru and Kerala have exceptional seafood cuisine which you don’t get in North India,” O’Yeah notes.

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The magic spell Bengaluru cast on O’Yeah

His deep connection with Bengaluru, he says, goes back to his initial days here when he was moved by the honesty of the locals and the simplicity of life in the city. This, he added, was in contrast to his experience in the North.

Zac O'Yeah

O’Yeah made Bengaluru his home when he realised life was perfect here. (Marina Paulose/South First)

Recalling the time when he disembarked from the train at Majestic, thirty years ago, O’Yeah confessed that he believed the city would be another one of his pit stops in his life of constant wandering. But destiny had other plans.

“Usually when you come to India from abroad, you land in Delhi. When you explore further into North India, like Varanasi, Agra and Rajasthan, you might end up getting fleeced. Of course, there are several pleasant experiences, but there are people who are looking to take advantage of you. I went through all that and finally came to Bengaluru. The first thing I felt was instant relief,” O’Yeah recalled.

He loves that “there is absolutely nothing to do” in the city.

Steering the conversation to the diversity of Indian cuisine, O’Yeah shared slices of his experience with Indian food in Sweden.

“There we have a clear idea of what Indian food is. It’s Tandoori Chicken and Palak Paneer! In Sweden, you have Indian restaurants at every corner, and these are their top-selling foods, including Butter Garlic Naan. Later, I realised that Indian Food is so much more than that. So, looking back at all of this in my travels was the starting point of the book for me.” O’Yeah signed off.

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