Love in the Time of Coriander

Thoughts on food & more.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

"I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke"

First of all, thanks those who are discussing on my blog! I appreciate that a conversation about cooking (and brewing) and its importance to human civilization was able to be generated and sustained. Also, kudos to those who chimed in about the breakfast foods debate. I'm a blogging toddler still, giddy from the stimulation. Keep it coming, please!

Onward . . .

It's true that Western breakfast foods taking over the world are a result of globalism. I remember about 7 or 8 years ago, I ordered a plate of pancakes and syrup in a 5-star hotel in Madras (now Chennai) and got silver-dollar dosas soggy from syrup. But in my recent jaunts to India, no such luck. Pancakes, french toast, and eggs arrive at the table looking and tasting like they came out of a diner in Missoula. Instead of impressing me, it creeps me out. I loved the American-food-gone-awry of the India before. It reminded me that India was still India. That we weren't getting so close together to become indistinguishable.

I once heard that food in a culture is the first thing that changes. Before we let down the veils of xenophobia and other cultural meldings, our tastebuds lead us to want what others have. For instance, twenty years ago in the US, Americans weren't necessarily that enamored by Chinese immigrants (one could argue that we still aren't) but we sure did begin a love affair with their food. Many would agree that the history of human civilization, especially over the last two millenia, can be viewed through the lens of taste. We caught whiff of wonderful things in far off places, things not witnessed before by our palates. We traveled far and wide to get them. India, especially, has felt the effects of this history with traders and colonizers desiring tea and spices. Afterall, what would our kitchens be like without black pepper?

Transformation is embraced for other reasons, too. Some things are meant to die out in the Darwinian sense because they just aren't that effective. I remember a Kenyan friend once told me that before corn meal was introduced to Africa, the Kenyans spent many long hours trying to make millet edible. To my knowledge, now millet has been largely replaced by corn meal in many traditional African dishes, making cooking a less onerous endeavor.

The practical side of change in combination with our longing for new taste horizons results in innovation. This I love! This is one of my primary reasons for living--to see how my fellow humans make food evolutions. How did people find that chocolate and sugar were a marriage made in heaven? Take the Gilroy Garlic Festival, for instance. I've yet to visit it but lore about the garlic ice cream winds its way through the grapevines of the Bay Area and beyond. Fusion, though marketed as the hottest thing since sliced bread (pun intended), is what we've been doing all along. Putting things together in typical chem-lab fashion. Some things come together brilliantly while other experiments fail and should be dumped by the wayside.

What is my point? I suppose I'm on a long-winded diatribe (have you known me to be short-winded yet?) about the balance between the new and the old. Globalism has expanded our hearts, minds, and stomachs. But I'm afraid that it wrongly sends things to a premature death. (This is another issue altogether, involving a critique of American capitalism, into which I cannot enter at the moment.) This morning, I had an Indian-style breakfast in my mother's kitchen. She made a paratha stuffed with shredded radish, chopped chili, mustard seeds, cumin, and kari leaves. It came accompanied by a fresh lemon pickle (made with the lemons in her yard in Central California) and plain yogurt. Words can't describe how delicious it was. I would hate to see all the young folks in India opting for second-rate pancake breakfasts (from McDonald's, no less) in lieu of home-made parathas.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world. . . Sruti, Mark (her beau, who is half-Indian and half-Scottish), and I made a trip to Vik's Chaat House a month ago when she was in town for a momentary respite. We ordered amazing chaat for cheap and drank ass-kicking chai. While noshing in the large fluorescently-lit dining area, I reminiscenced about the start of this operation in the grungy kitchen behind the grocery warehouse. It's now a veritable phenomenon, a not-to-be-missed vista on the food tourist's map. Unbeknowest to me, Mark had gone the extra mile and had purchased, of all the things in the world, a Limca, an Indian soft drink, in a bottle. I wasn't certain they were made anymore, but not suprisingly, somewhere in the world, there's a small factory still eeking out bottles for export to chaat houses in my neck of the woods. I guess this is what globalism means. While all the young Indian urbanites caress their plastic Pepsi and Coke bottles, we'll raise our glass Limca bottles high, ruffian-style, and shout, "I'd like to buy the world a Limca!"

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Photos arrive, as promised . . .

In honor of E's birthday, I baked a Cherry Almond Tart. We can't wait to dig in and taste the goodness! Posted by Hello

Breakfast, Anyone?

Breakfast may be a subject of debate that rages throughout E's & my life together.

Let me just preface this blog by saying that E is much more a rule-oriented person than I am. He believes that there are right and wrong things to do. When it is pointed out to him, he is also capable of admitting that what he believes is right is usually more of opinion, reflective of the way he was raised.

For E, it is important to adhere to the rules of what foods are appropriate for breakfast. Usually, it is E that wanders into the kitchen first after waking. I linger a little longer, washing my face, readying myself for the day. His first order of business is to put the kettle on for coffee. He then searches the cupboards for 9-grain cereal (his favorite), oatmeal or granola. Sometimes, when we are out of these things or if he is feeling a bit adventuresome, E will toast a slice of Vital Vittles and spread yogurt and jam on it. This is breakfast. This makes him quite content.

I, on the other hand, will eat anything for breakfast. Well, almost anything. I remember my cousin Kitu told me he had a tough time living in Kolkata for a few months. Though he was brought up in India and accustomed to its myriad of breakfast choices, he was unequipped with what he described as a fish and jalebi (deep-friend sugared dough pastry) meal. This does not sound appetizing to me--for breakfast or for any other meal!

But E is right to characterize me as a free "breakfast" bird. Yup, I am one of those people who eats leftover pizza for breakfast. This, because it is more of an American thing-to-do, doesn't bother E as much. But here's where it gets weird. I'll eat burritos slathered in salsa and hot sauce, the previous evening's Kung Pao chicken with rice, pasta salad, curry, and grilled cheese sandwiches at 8am--all of which sound a helluva lot more appealing to me that 9-grain cereal. Actually, one of my favorite weekend activities in Berkeley is to go to the Thai temple (see my previous blog) on Sunday morning for brunch. The temple's many patrons would suggest that I am not alone in my love of savory (even spicy) foods for the first meal of the day.

Regardless, E is always trying to gather fodder to prove that my breakfast tastes are an aberrance. He queried several sets of friends. "Do you do this? Is this normal behavior?" They all agreed that breakfast was a meal with more restrictive guidelines for food. They, too, are believers in toast, eggs, granola, etc. E was tickled when Rhys remarked about my habits, "I think that's an Asian thing." I'm willing to accept that. Actually, I'll embrace it.

I did some research about what people around the world eat for breakfast. Examining European breakfasts, especially, I realized that a facet of our grab-a-muffin-and-go hails from the French style of having only coffee with a single pastry for the petit dejeuner. In contrast, we also inhereit a not-so-petite breakfast from the United Kingdom, consisting in meats and hearty breads (with raisins). Another interesting observation, too, is that colonialism has largely brought European-style breakfasts to Africa and Asia, though the villagers and more indigent folks continue to eat their cheaper local cuisines.

I thought it might be fun to end this blog with a few facts about what people eat around the world for breakfast.

Africa: Breakfast usually includes uji, a thin gruel made of cassava, millet, rice or corn. Cornmeal is most common. Depending upon the poverty of the region and availability of other things, fruits, peanuts, or meat are also part of the meal.

Australia: Toast topped with spaghetti, baked beans, and bacon. (Wow! That's fascinating!)

Bulgaria: Tea or Turkish coffee, sesame bread and butter, sheep's milk cheese, honey, olives, tomatoes, boiled eggs .

China: Little distinction is made between breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Often a rice with vegetables and meat is served. In Canton, dim sum and congee are popular.

France, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg: Coffee and some type of bread or pastry.

India: Khichri (rice, lentils & spices). Interestingly, the English when in India adopted their own version with haddock, cream and eggs, calling it kedgeree. Other foods include dosas (crepe-like cakes filled with potatoes, meat, or veggies) and idli (steamed fermented rice cakes). Generally, chai and coffee are also consumed in the morning with the meal.

Ireland: Fried meat, white and black puddings with the array of meats, Irish soda bread sprinkled with golden and brown raisins.

Scotland: Oatcakes, scones, porridge, Arbroath smokies (small gutted haddock, salted or pickled before being smoked) eaten with lemon juice, black pepper, brown bread and butter.

Scandinavia: Cereal, eggs, breads with butter and jam, cold cuts, cheeses, yogurt, fruits, coffee or hot chocolate.