Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A Plague of Sugar, Erroneously Hot Potato Salad and Those Pesky Little Intestinal Bugs...

We liked Indian food before we arrived and have grown to enjoy it even more since, happily dining on rice, dals, veg and non-veg curries of all sorts, curd, dosa, various sour-salty-spicy pickles, chapatis, tandoori and other traditional dishes and we look forward to all the dishes we have yet to try. Still...there are times when we are overcome with very specific yearnings for "Minneapolis Food" (as Owen refers to it). I would literally cry if you walked in the door with a Chipotle burrito or an order of flan from "El Norteno" restaurant in South Minneapolis. Bread from Turtle Bread Company, Donuts from Mel-o-Glaze, ice cream from The Pumphouse Creamery or Izzy's, an organic deli sandwich with all the trimmings from the Linden Hills Co-op or Trotter's cafe, real Sour Cream, Steamed Swiss Chard, Eggs Benedict with Hollandaise Sauce, crispy hashbrowns and a side of nitrate free bacon and please don't forget the cappucino (a little on the wet side) from Java Jack's! Were I to have the opportunity to visit the cheese department's at the Co-op, Kowalski's, Lunds or Surdyk's you would find me laying on the floor gorging myself on raw milk cheddars, smelly Tallegio, creamy-salty-pungent bleu... I know it might indicate a slight problem of sorts but I've been dreaming of liquor stores and wine shops on a regular basis...row upon row of multiple grape varietals...all duty free, many affordable and some really special followed by an astounding array of COLD beer...Summit, Fat Tire, Pilsner Urquel, Sierra Nevada, Celis White... (we can find a very small selection of nice, drinkable every day Indian wines here...Kingfisher, Fosters and occasionally other beer...oh and more Kingfisher (did I say Kingfisher?) Suffice it to say that if you come to not even think about coming empty handed!

Many of you know that I love to cook. I like fresh, organic, whole foods and am a bit of a "locavore" and traditional foods nut. (check out or if you don't know what that's all about). I'm not a purist (stray Oreos have been known to stalk me) but my kids can pretty much parrot my diatribes about the evils of high fructose corn syrup and refined sugar, the benefits of fermented foods and soaked grains and the supreme wonders of Cod Liver or Coconut Oil ;-)

I try not to think about driving down to Sweetland Farm for their luscious milk, cream, kefir or yogurt, duck and heirloom chicken eggs, grassfed beef and kombucha or off to Afton's Fresh Earth Farms or the Mill City Farmer's Market to pick up organic veggies and fruit. There is a fledgling organic movement in India and we do have a "24 Letter Mantra" small organic grocery close to us, which is a treasure trove of organic rice, dals and grains and a (very) few vegetables. I love farmers's markets and there are many open air markets in Bangalore....but heavy pesticide use here is common and the regulation of those pesticides is poor. is also quite possible to purchase lovely looking produce which has been watered or washed with sewage contaminated water. Yum! All our produce must be washed in filtered water and much of it must also be peeled (we don't eat uncooked lettuce or greens). There are definite pluses, too: Fresh Meats, Eggs and Produce are most often local (aka "hey kids, see that goat? Might be eating it tomorrow!) extremely fresh and much cheaper. Jaggery, a fermented, unrefined sugar is widely available. Traditional Idli and Dosa are made from a fermented batter. Coconuts are plentiful. Papayas, fantastic Pineapples, Pomegranates, Mangoes...and all manner of tropical fruits are bountiful. I can say with truth that I had never tasted a real banana until I came to India. Up until recently, packaged and processed foods were rare and I find it kind of sad to see that "modernization" is changing that.

Indian people (and when I say that, it is a complete generalization) love children. Indian people also love sweets. Thus it has been our experience that Indian people reaaaaaalllllyyyy love to give our children sweets. Lots of them. Children are smart and ours have quickly learned that it is easy to score candy in a variety of ways: smile charmingly, place your palms together and say Namaste to the neighbors, fall down and cry, pretend to fall down and cry, throw a tantrum, beg, wake up in the morning, breathe... It might be 9 o'clock in the morning or 10 o'clock at night...doesn't matter. There are few occasions that are not appropriate for candy. As a parent (particularly one intent in reducing their kid's sugar intake,) this is frustrating and very often infuriating. We do say "no thank you" when we can say it fast enough (many times the candy is out of the wrapper and in their mouths before you've opened your own mouth...not so fun with a peanut allergic child.) As with other cultures...modernity is both blessing and curse and while India has always had its sweets, they were usually prepared with things like ghee, jaggery, nuts, milk, rice or grains and various spices...all things which are nutrient dense. Today, though the traditional sweets are alive and well...there is a literal plague of highly processed junk food full of refined sugars...which in turn has contributed to a problem with Diabetes and other health issues. Don't get me wrong...there is probably a bigger problem with junk food (and obesity, diabetes, heart disease, etc) in the American diet but people (especially ones you don't really know) don't generally feed candy to your kids.

The endearing part about this dilemma is that Indians of both sexes and all ages are truly engaged by children...and children are rarely raised by "just" their parents but by a multitude of family...both blood related and not (politics aside...there really are villages raising children.) The level of tolerance (and often mirth) for a child's naughtiness is astounding...and a real blessing for expats traveling about with their kids!

I can not tell you the number of people who have explained to me that "children are God," (a spiritual concept I believe in.) I think my kids are catching on...

You might recall that I gathered ingredients and made a nice traditional American potato salad over Diwali weekend...the usual: potatoes, hard boiled eggs, onion, pickle (no dill but I managed to find a sour, minimally sweet pickle) and mayo and it was delicious (if not completely authentic.) The next day was a Monday. I recalled the left overs in the fridge and thought maybe I'd snack on them later in the day. Lunch time arrived and our cook walked out of the kitchen with... a steaming, microwaved bowl of potato salad ("Madame...I heated the rest of your potatoes for lunch") NOOOOOOOOOO! My brain was overcome by a refrain..."Hot Mayo...taste it and see...Hot Mayo...lick your bowl clean." My eyes blurred, the room began to swirl around me. Alas, our cook is a nice, hardworking man and I didn't have the heart to tell him how much I like my potato salad cold! (or how much I hate microwaves but that's another story.) Not wanting to waste my weekend cooking endeavor...I wrapped in in an onion dosa and ate it anyway.

I'll conclude this blog installment with a request to each of you enjoying the perks of a safe water supply: Go now to your kitchen tap (I know, you probably usually filter it but do it for us...) grab a glass, fill it with water, add some ice and drink it. Now, take some lettuce from your fridge...wash it with tap water, dry it a bit, toss it with a little olive oil and some balsamic vinegar. Eat your green salad with impunity. Brush your teeth with tap water...gargle...have another quick drink from the tap. Take a shower with your mouth open. There now, wasn't that refreshing?

I'll let Bob know you're thinking of us! He's too busy cuddled up in bed reading a story about antibiotics to the nice little ameobas that have been camping in his gut...


The Fischers in Bangalore

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