“I was the other person who knew what our family’s food should taste like,” said Mr. Rushdie, 70, who became his sister’s unofficial recipe tester, taking each freshly typed recipe back to his own apartment in Islington, following it without deviations and reporting back on the results.
“If the book had come out in the U.S. back then, in 1988, I don’t think there would have been wide interest because there wasn’t wide interest in Indian cuisine here,” said Mr. Rushdie, who moved to New York in 1999. “In a city of a million restaurants, Indian cuisine was very poorly represented. And when it was, it was represented at the bottom end of the market.”
On a visit to Los Angeles, Mr. Rushdie remembers being taken out to what he was told was a very good Indian restaurant. “And all the waitresses were dressed as belly dancers,” he said. “It was an education into how unreal people’s understanding of India was at the time.”
Meherwan Irani, an American restaurateur who moved from India to the United States to attend graduate school in South Carolina in the 1990s, remembers a string of poorly made curries at lunch buffets in the South that followed what he called “the usual tropes.”
It was a familiar experience for any immigrant moving to the United States, but Mr. Irani took it personally. He felt the food misrepresented who he was, and where he came from.
“It left such an impression on me,” he said. “It violated my sense of what was right and wrong with the world.” He went on to open Chai Pani in 2009, in Asheville, N.C., and now has five restaurants across the South. He is one of several pioneers who have helped to complicate and expand the definition of Indian cuisine in the United States, and to familiarize a wider audience with its regional flavors.
“Now you can see an American ordering a kati roll as casually as they order pizza,” Mr. Irani said of his latest restaurant, Botiwalla, inside Ponce City Market in Atlanta.