Friday, May 31, 2013

Food Myths and Mysteries

Food is centric to all cultures. India is no exception. There are many beliefs related to food that I struggle to wrap my stomach around.
Chikoo Fruit
As summer is here, I've received no shortage of warnings regarding "heat" foods. Heat foods are foods that are said to increase your body's core temperature, or so I'm told. Heat foods can be beneficial at times, for example if you have a sore throat, you should eat a boiled egg, because it will draw heat to your throat and sooth the pain. In the summer months, however, heat food should be avoided, so as to spare your health. Heat foods include, but are not limited to; eggs (specifically the yoke), chicken, mutton, mangoes, chikoo fruit (which I consider a meal on the go, and like to have it when I'm hungry but don't want to eat). Also on the list is ginger (in every curry), coriander, capsicum (green pepper), coconut, dates, guava, jack fruit, grapes and coffee (derr).
Because these foods are said to increase your body temperature, it is also believed consuming them will result in acne, fever, sleeplessness, indigestion, constipation, and irritability (I'm generally irritable when I'm constipated).
Now if you want to cool off, you can lean towards the staples, such as watermelon and cucumber which are mostly water and will aid in hydration and will keep you cool. That much I don't doubt. But also included in this list is papaya, bananas, pineapple, tomatoes, corn, cauliflower, curd/dahi which is somewhere between sour cream and plain yogurt, sugar cane (the juice is made fresh by vendors on the street and is amazing), and turmeric which is made into a powder or paste and added to curry. I don't know about you, but for me, when it's 115 degrees outside, eating some corn isn't up there on my list when it comes to cooling effects.
Meetha Paan
In addition to heating and cooling foods, you have things which will aid in digestion, which is a very centric theme around here. I'm constantly having things thrust at me with the statement "Eat/Drink this. It helps with digestion." I must look constipated. most probably from all the chicken and eggs I eat. While I value the importance of things that aid in my digestion, I'm unable to connect the dots and understand exactly how the following items would help: coconut water, lassi (a watered down milk beverage sweetened with sugar, sweet pan (Meetha Paan which is a mixture of coconut, fruit preserves, rose petal preserves, and spices, wrapped in a betel leaf and topped with a cherry).
Coconut water I'm not a fan of, but lassi and paan are nice so I don't mind. For many Westerners, a dinner out to an Indian restaurant will not require any digestive aids, but here, with the mass quantities of rice eaten multiple times a day, every day, some help can be required.
I did some research on these theories which lead me to believe that this was largely the Chinese influence. I don't know what to think of them. It's not a concept I recall from my Western up-bringing and one I struggle to embrace, regardless of it's strong following by seemingly everyone here in India.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Don't Touch My Cello

No, I'm not referring to a stringed instrument. I'm referring to my most prized water bottles. Seems a little possessive huh? Well, I guess that's true.
This is way fancier then what we have,
 but you get the idea
Indians have a unique relationship with water. With searing hot temperatures and wide spread water shortages, it's a precious commodity around here. In each home you'll find a commercial water bottle consisting of 20 litres of drinking water. You'll also find the fridge filled with smaller half litre and one litre bottles that have been filled and kept for chilling. Since we don't get chilled water from the tap here, we'll stuff as many water bottles in the fridge as possible so that we always have something cool and ready to drink. We'll also ensure that wherever we go, we carry a water bottle with us.
I stole this photo from the Internet
This brings me to my Cellos. We have "home" water bottles and we have "outside" water bottles. The home water bottles are bottles we purchased in a 3 or 6 pack that are generally sort of decorative and that we fill and keep at home. We then have our recycled bottles, like used soda bottles, juice bottles, etc. that we refill and also keep chilled. These are handy to use when you're going out, because you can take one with you, and when it's empty you can throw it away, rather than having to haul around an empty bottle with you.
When we first moved here, we had picked up a cheap six pack of bottles from a local shop. Within a few months they got really stinky and no amount of dish soap and scrubbing would freshen them up. Our maid even tried boiling them, and we promptly discovered that the melting point of the bottle was lower than that of the water, and we ended up with plastic soup. I then set out on a mission. I wanted to find Cello brand water bottles. Plastic manufactured by Cello won't stink. You can use it over and over and the plastic will maintain its integrity and a simple rinse will have it as fresh as the day you bought it. Well, I got lucky. I found a precious six pack of Cello brand bottles. We've happily used these bottles for more than a year, consuming almost 100 litres of water a week at home, and never having to sip out of a stinky bottle.
I've developed a love affair with these bottles and I've become a protective mother hen over them. Once, we took a bottle outside, to a resort for the day, and the bottle was left behind in the friend of a friend’s car after the outing. I had to track that bottle down, almost 30 kms away and negotiate for its safe return home. I vowed to be more responsible after that. Then, once when my in-laws came, one of the bottles mysteriously returned home with them. When I saw my co-sister (my husband’s brothers wife) using it, I had to design and execute a covert operation to retrieve the bottle. I literally had to stalk it and sneak around for a few weeks until I was able to snatch it and hide it from her until I could smuggle it into my bag and take it home. It took me a while, but I was successful and the bottle was returned to its rightful refrigerator. I've maintained these six bottles for almost 2 years and I've done so with pride. Now, again, two bottles have gone missing. I suspect my landlady borrowed them and somehow they never made it home. I can assure you, if she borrowed them I wasn't around because I NEVER lend them out. If anyone comes to the door asking for water (sounds weird but it happens more than you would think) then they get a used orange juice or coke bottle because I don't have to worry about them returning it.
The hunt goes on for the missing Cellos. I thought I saw my maid running around with them a week or so ago but I couldn't get a clear visual in order to confirm.
Now that we’re down in Cello count, I once again set out on a mission to replace them. To no avail. I had to settle for a cheap replacement. It makes me sad. I had a love affair with those bottles. I hope they’ll survive out in the big world all on their own.