Love in the Time of Coriander

Thoughts on food & more.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Salt Sodas

Oy! I'm so swamped with planning my wedding and trying to complete the last quarter of my first year in graduate school for psychotherapy that eating and blogging have really become secondary to all the other stuff.

Nevertheless, I wanted to work in at least one blog. For one of my classes, because it is both difficult and highly experiential, each of the students have been given the assignment to bring a "ritual" to share in our smaller group. One of the instructors kicked off the class with a Jewish passover ritual involving the consumption of a chocolate-covered raspberry jelly candy.

That sparked in most of us a desire to share rituals related to food. A fellow student, Hillary, brought a "Depression Cake." The cake, eggless and dense with ginger flavor and a sugary white icing, was a recipe developed by the women in her family to continue the tradition of birthday cakes in a time when eggs were a luxury. I felt inspired by the spirit and history in this ritual.

I didn't want to do what others before me had already done, though. Thus, I was wary of bringing food, particularly because it was so easy to gravitate toward sweets, which in almost every culture, are a powerfully celebratory and unifying ritual. So what did I do? I brought a drink instead: "the uppu soda." Translated from the Telugu, these are salt sodas made with carbonated water, fresh lime or lemon juice, ground cumin, and salt. I lugged a murky 2-liter bottle to class and offered it to my peers in plastic cups.

Vendors sell these drinks in the streets like ice-cream in a push-along cart. The salt mitigates the effects of dehydration while the water hydrates. Here in the US, my brother is the uppu soda maestro, who concocts the drink at family gatherings and individually tailors each to suit the lemon-salt preference of our palates.

In offering the uppu soda, I warned my classmates that there was the possibility that it could be perceived as anywhere from digusting to refreshing. Uppu sodas are akin to salt lassis or the garlicky Mediterranean yogurt drinks filled with fresh herbs, which, to me are delicious, thirst-quenching beverages. But for Americans, salt in a drink is strange. Whereas the same tastes fly in a savory dish, they're unwelcome in the realm of whistle-whetter.

Admittedly, part of sharing this ritual was to confess my desire for the non-Indian tongue to be turned off by this funny soda. In a way, my cravings for salt sodas, against the grain of American tastes, remind me that I possess a relationship, through my tastebuds, to another world, a world that has not yet been coopted by others. I feel strangely aware lately that globalism, while it has brought me closer to the rest of the world, has also rendered much of the world already explored and commonplace. Instead of wondering what wonders lie outside of California, we now wonder what we can't find here.

This one, my salt soda, to my knowledge hasn't yet caught on. It's firmly stood its ground as its own entity. Blame it on a lack of audience, perhaps, but I haven't even seen it sold in South Indian restaurants. It is still ours to make and enjoy in the quietness of home, when my family convenes to reminsce in their tastes of South India. Of course, I have just revealed it to you, to the internet, for all the world to see. I still doubt its ability to transcend, at least not yet.

So for now, it will remain a slice of South India. One that I folded into my heart long ago.


At 10:48 AM, Blogger نیکی said...

oh boy do i miss uppu sodas. last time i had one your brother made me one.

At 11:00 AM, Blogger Luv2cook said...


I was just blog hopping and came across your blog. It is a very interesting read, I should say! Spent my entire lunch hour on it :).

The uppu sodas are my favorite! I am definitelty going to make this. May be this weekend..hmm...


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