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!"


At 11:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whatever do you mean by "involving a critique of American capitalism..."? Everything bad is always the fault of us Americans isn't it. I am very tired of this sort of stuff, and I certainly shall not return here again.

At 9:19 AM, Anonymous Kathleen said...

The garlic ice cream sounds like it would have the potential to be good. Here in Brooklyn, down the street from my house, we have "beer shakes." I like to describe it more like a root beer float, but with real beer. Whatever you do...don't think Pabst, or Bud (that would be gross with ice cream). These beer shakes are made with the darkest beer that has a strong hop taste. It's soooo good. Next time you are here...I'll have to take you for a beer shakes.
The breakfast you had at your Mom's house sounds wonderful. I hope that in this age of globalism that young Indian people would prefer parathas over pancakes. Although, I have to say I've never had parathas. If you have any recipes for this I'd love to try it for breakfast!

At 4:48 PM, Blogger the food therapist said...

Hi Kathleen--
Thanks for reading & for commenting! I would love to have a "beer shake" with you the next time I come to New York. That would be lovely! If you are ever in these parts, too, lemmee know. . .


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