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F likes eating with all the accoutrements of the western world. This means he likes his fork, spoon and knife and he will not let go of this even in the face of adverse circumstances like eating off a (totally flat) banana leaf or eating fish which is so packed with bones that it’s hard to come out alive. The degree of eccentricity can be gauged when one sees him at the dinner table picking away at a buttered roti with a knife and fork for more than a couple of hours and the rest of us are on our way back home.

 

Like F, many westerners who travel to countries where people eat with their fingers, like Iran or India, are squeamish about letting their fingers do the work for them. I have seen young Europeans struggle on with the forefinger and the thumb of BOTH hands with very entertaining results. Sometimes I wonder what all the fuss is about. Most countries have eaten some food or the other with their fingers. Japanese sushi, Arabic falafel, Mexican tortillas, Spanish tapas, the list is endless. In the court of Roman Emperor Hadrian the food was served on low tables and Romans helped themselves to the food with their fingers.

 

A billion Indians will tell you, the best and probably the only way to enjoy your tikka and curries is with your fingers. All you have to do is wash your hands and dig in. We are programmed to finger-eat for god’s sake.

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The Asian landscape is dotted with temples. From the renowned (and certainly wealthy) Tirupati in the state of Andhra Pradesh in India to the Emerald Buddha (or Phra Kaew Morakot) in Thailand, each of these places of worship have their own unique ‘prasadam’ or temple food, depending on which part of the world you are in.

 

The origin of organic food is perhaps from the Buddhist temples of South East Asia. Traditionally, temple food is made from seasonal vegetables handpicked from mountains and gardens. The ‘ohshinchae’ or the five simulative vegetables garlic, green onions, leeks, wild rocamboles (or garlic) and Chinese squill are not permitted in any offering given to God. The belief is that these bring bad luck, evil spirits and lust. Meat too is avoided. The lack of these ingredients naturally makes temple food bland but positively healthy. Strangely, this genre of food has now made its way to chic restaurants in cities like Seoul claiming to offer ‘real temple food’. Some also go as far as to offer ‘fusion temple food’. Makes one ask, what next?

 

In Hinduism too food plays a central role in rituals and worship. ‘Prasada’, in Sanskrit, is the offering made by devotees to God and then consumed. Like Buddhists, Hindus too don’t offer onions, garlic, mushrooms or meat ascertaining Buddhism’s deep foundation from within Hinduism. Like Buddhist scriptures, Vedic scriptures and Ayurveda explain that these foods excite the more passionate elements of the human psycho-physical constitution. Therefore, the food offered to God consists primarily of rice, vegetables, sweets and fruits. Some Hindu temples are renowned for their prasadam like the famous ‘laddu’ available in Tirupati prepared from ‘boondi’ (little sugary balls), dried fruits, saffron, spices and sugar. The present consumption for this is a staggering 1, 40,000 pieces daily. Such is the craze that the Special Officer at this temple has recently announced that a buffer stock of 3, 00,000 laddus will be kept ready at all times.

 

Interestingly, some Hindu ceremonies completely contradict everything the Vedic scriptures say as far as food is concerned. For example, the Bengali community in Eastern India offers lamb or mutton, in the form of a sacrificial goat to Bhadra Kali, a form of Goddess Durga. In the historic Dakhineshwar Temple in the state of West Bengal in India, Goddess Kali turns vegetarian once every seven years. The legend goes that the founder Rani Rasmani had a son-in-law who was vegetarian. Unable to bear the sight of blood he pleaded with his mother-in-law who promised him that Goddess Kali will not be offered meat once every seven years .

 

And finally to take it a step further the Goddess is sometimes even offered country liquor by organizers. Just goes to say that the gods can have fun too. 

hag·gis – noun Chiefly Scot. A traditional pudding made of the heart, liver, etc., of a sheep or calf, minced with suet and oatmeal, seasoned, and boiled in the stomach of the animal. 

 

S gave me a can of Haggis last weekend and has been checking with me since to see if it has been consumed. So this morning I decided that now was the time to do so. At first I was at a loss as to how the damn thing should be heated. I had to pry the wrapping off the can to get to the instructions on the reverse side. This is how it looked.

 

 

After much tribulation I managed to get the casing too off the Haggis (which was sealed with little metal clasps) and heated it in the microwave for four minutes (as specified). I then put the meat on buttered toast with cheese.

 

My first reaction was that I can taste the bread and I can taste the cheese but why can I not taste the Haggis. The reason being that the substance is largely tasteless. Maybe my gustatory system is not working as well as I would like it to but the fact of the matter is that it IS rather insipid.

 

The bit of Haggis that was gifted to me had venison liver as the primary ingredient. Although there are many recipes, it is normally made with sheep’s ‘pluck’ (heart, liver, and lungs), minced with onion, oatmeal, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally boiled in the animal’s stomach for approximately an hour. Truth be told, the only thing I could taste was the oatmeal. The instructions ask you to eat it with mashed potatoes and turnip (or neeps and tatties as the Scots say), or on toast (as I did) or mix it up with whisky and serve with a generous portion of fresh cream. I strongly doubt anything can augment a taste which does not exist in the first place.

Interestingly, Haggis is still very much a part of everyday Scottish life. So much so that Haggis Hurling is a popular sport with a World Haggis Hurling Championship which is held each year. The challenge is to hurl the haggis as far as possible for distance and accuracy from atop a platform (usually a whisky barrel). A split or burst haggis is immediately disqualified (in keeping with its ‘historical’ roots that the haggis must be fit to eat).

 

Currently the import of Haggis into the USA is illegal. If only it were the same with Asian countries. 

When I was in college and living away from home my friends and I spent a bulk of our time feeling hungry. Finances were scarce and I did not have my own transport so whatever was consumed had to be substantial, within spitting distance and cheap as hell.

 

And so we discovered the joys of hostel cooking. In this post I shall introduce you to two dishes.

 

CRISPY TOAST

Please note that this method of making toast does not require a toaster or fire. It instead needs an iron. Yes, the kind you iron your clothes with. Spread butter evenly on a slice of bread (preferably fresh). Switch on the iron and turn the knob till it reads ‘Cotton’. Gently lay the buttered bread on top and hear it sizzle. Turn over after a minute.

 

PS: My roommate and I had a dedicated iron which was used purely for toast making purposes.

 

INSTANT NOODLES

This preparation does not need fire or even an electric kettle. It does need a modern bathroom. You ask why? Beeecaaauuuse a modern bathroom has a geyser, which in turn has piping hot water. Need I say more?

 

 

Disgusting you say? A necessity, when you are a poor student.

Someone wise said that it is a pleasure to give advice, humiliating to need it, normal to ignore it.


Some of us (classically ME) tend to ignore the smaller instructions in life while concentrating on the larger more complicated ones. So when I set out to cook Lamb Biryani last Sunday, I followed the instructions right down to the last inch of a cinnamon stick.

 

I parboiled the fine Basmati rice with whole Indian spices and peppercorns with the precision of a honed surgeon. I cooked the tender lamb with tomato and onions, soaked the saffron in warm milk (43.5 degree centigrade) and fried the onions to the specified colour of Burnt Umber (Yea, it’s a real colour). The mint leaves were torn and sandwiched between the layers of rice along with the lamb. The saffron was devotedly poured at regular intervals.

 

And then I went and made my only but fatal mistake. I chose the wrong utensil. I chose an elegant blue and black casserole with a clear cover, covered it with aluminum foil to seal the food in. What I failed to take note of was the fact that the instructions clearly said ‘prepare biryani in a heavy bottomed dish’. My casserole was perfect except that its bottom was rather thin (pardon for lack of a better phrase).

 

The result – My painstakingly prepared biryani looked fantastic, tasted pretty darn good but smelt like London during the Great Fire.