For those unknown to the term ‘sommelier’, we’re wine tasters and servers by profession. Not much seen in India but abroad it is a matter of prestige and symbol of class for a restaurant/hotel to have one aboard. Sommelier is French term that is believed to have come from, well, France. However, has the occupation come from France too? They surely will boast about it and will take all due credits for its origin but so might not be the truth!
Mindwalking once, I realized it was us Indians who started the whole idea of tasting things at first. And it might surprise one if they’re either unknown to the principles of the very humble Indian hospitality or the majestic tale of Ramayana. They both come together to prove that it was us Indians who gifted the profession to the world.
The Indian hospitality teaches us that our guests are our god. We’re constantly injected with this theorem and no matter how much we may disagree it remains the pillar that can’t be ignored ever. They shall never be presented with anything unworthy of being served at the dinner table. For us sommeliers as a wine is ordered we must first taste it, check its condition, and only if presentable should it be served to the guests. Same goes with the chefs and their food in the kitchen.
This is where Ramayana enters the scene. Bestowed in our history gods checked-in into our country gazillions of years ago and remained our guests for millions. Serving them was our only religion then. As the story goes, lord Ram was exiled from his kingdom by his father and his notorious step-mom. He decided he’ll head to the jungles alone. But his newly-wed wife, Sita, also tagged along, and so did his younger brother, Laxman. The wife was brave enough to come but couldn’t survive for long in the woody dungeons and was kidnapped by the king of Lanka, man with an infected laughter, Ravana. One day while lord Ram was desperately looking for his kidnapped lady-love, a local villager, Shabri, recognised him. Seeing the agony and fatigue on his face she offered to feed him with fruits from her garden. To ensure that lord Ram bit into only the best of the fruits she tasted every single berry and only once self-satisfied she presented it to him. By doing so she ensured that lord Ram was served only the best of what could’ve been offered then. The essence remains that she tasted what was to be served to her guest to ensure utmost satisfaction. This, till date, remains the most dominant objective of Indian hospitality. And following this today we define the professions of taster, food critics, and sommeliers.
There is no difference in what a sommelier does in a dinning outlet for its guests from what Ramayana teaches us. He’d taste every wine first and only then present it to his guest to ensure that they are served the best of the drops available.
Indians didn’t only gift zeros to the world but many such relevant applications. We never were great marketers and it is only because of this that we never claimed the origins of these professions too. We’re just happy that it came from our mythological history and these fables narrate the truth themselves. The connection between Ramayana, Indian hospitality, and the origin of tasters as a profession is not a proven fact, maybe we never tried to, but till the Frenchs don’t have a logic/fable to narrate its origin to their credits we’ll rest to believe in our own stories.