My father worked in Italy for five years. He loved the quiet little town of Brindisi. He would go on long walks along the Adriatic coastline in the evenings, my mother reluctantly walking beside him since he's donned a ridiculous cow boy hat that she absolutely detests. On weekends they'd go on road trips to different parts of Southern Italy, a cowboy hat wearing brown man and his hijabi wife, making the Italian landscape a little more interesting. It was a leisurely life. Except for one thing-- food. My father, being the true blooded Indian that he is, couldn't stand Italian cuisine. The relatively bland Italian palate offended his Indian sensibilities.
After some time there, though, he discovered that Italians have something called 'Olio piccante', which is a spicy oil that is steeped in peppers. It was a miracle from the heavens above and soon he fell in love. In restaurants, before we are even seated, he would beckon the server and say 'OLIO PICCANTO' with the confidence that comes of knowing your food can be salvaged finally. I would try to hide as he, much to the annoyance of the Italian waiters, slathered all his meals with this oil. Pizza, Pasta, spaghetti, it did not matter, my father was just smitten with olio piccante. This made me fully comprehend the universally acknowledged truth that Indians are in a league of our own when it comes to food. I realise now that we are the desi Power Puff girls, craving sugar, spice, and everything nice, all at once.
I think this is something unique to our culture. We want our tastebuds to always have the best of everything in one go. The prime example of this quirk is Pani Puri. This magic snack that explodes in your mouth in a symphony of a million flavours and textures. It's savoury and sweet and sour and crunchy and mushy at the same damn time! Pani Puri is market research implemented way before anyone even knew what market research is.
Another one is masala tea. Imagine! Someone probably was sipping on tea and going 'Hmmm...what other thing can we add spices to?'
"Why this tea, it lacks a je ne sais quoi. I guess It can be only one thing."
*Rubs hand gleefully and proceeds to powder cardamom, clove, cinnamon, peacock feathers, elephant tusk, and snake skin and adds to tea*
"Let no one complain that our tea is not spicy enough!"
We are truly terrified about missing out on other flavours with each morsel in our mouth. This explains our fascinating array of condiments. Is the food not hot enough? No worries, you can choose from a wide array of pickes- mango, garlic, ginger, tomato, beef(!), lime, lotus stem.
Is the curry too spicy? Worry not, Dahi, Indian yoghurt, will come to your rescue and neutralise the spices.
Is your pizza or pasta too bland? Chup ho jao and slather it with ketchup.
I'm not complaining though. When I see my husband down my culinary experiments with a generous helping of fish pickle and dahi on the side, I can only thank our power puffy foremothers for inventing something that can transform any food into a gastronomic roller coaster ride.
What are some of your cultural culinary quirks?
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