Tag Archives: Food

Japanese Encephalitis and “Discriminating Against Meat-Eaters…”

After pulling out my dusty India journal for the last post, I couldn’t help but skim through a lot of other entries, and I found another story that might be amusing…

By now most of you know that I am a vegetarian. I eat eggs and dairy, but no fish or other meats, and I’ve been consistent with this for nearly fifteen years.

When I traveled to India, we had 20 people on our program, with more than half (perhaps more like 3/4) of us vegetarian. It was the first time in my life I was in a group where the veggies were in the majority. It was also the first time I was in a place where I could walk into any restaurant and be guaranteed several vegetarian meal choices, or could have my choice of several completely vegetarian restaurants all within walking distance. It was both liberating and overwhelming.

Making the food transition was one of the hardest parts of returning to the US at the completion of the program. I really missed the South Asian ease of finding vegetarian food (looking for grocery products with a green dot on the packaging to ensure it was animal product free), and was sad to see my restaurant choices relatively limited once again.

Since our student group had a veggie majority, the few meat eaters were suddenly finding themselves in the uncharted territory of feeling similar to how vegetarians sometimes feel in the not-always-vegetarian-friendly US. When our program cohort went out to dinner we would order more vegetarian dishes to share than meat dishes, and the meat eaters had fewer options. Sometimes only vegetarian food was ordered, since the meat eaters liked the veggie dishes too.

Yet transitioning from eating meat every day to once in a while was too much for one student.

I’m going to call him “Bob.”

One night at dinner, about 2-3 weeks into our program, Bob started grumbling loudly. He claimed that he was being discriminated against by the group, that “it wasn’t fair,” and that his “meat-eating rights shouldn’t be trodden upon.”

Now, I get that. I don’t think anyone should be forced to do something that they don’t feel comfortable with, but no one was forcing him to give up meat. It was just on occasions when the whole group had dinner together that it was easier to order more/all vegetarian meals. Plus Bob liked the vegetarian dishes too, so it wasn’t like we were forcing him to eat something he didn’t like.

But the student continued to insist that he was being discriminated against, and that eating all these vegetables was actually making him sick.

So let me back up more, and tell you a little something extra about Bob.

Before departing for India the members of our student group were given a list of recommended shots for the program– stuff like Hepatitis, Polio, Typhoid, and Japanese Encephalitis. I had received Hep, Polio, Typhoid and Yellow Fever immunizations for my Africa trips, and not wanting extra needle jabs if I didn’t absolutely need them, I figured I’d be okay without the Japanese Encephalitis. I think it was optional for where we were going anyway.

Bob intended to get the Japanese Encephalitis shot, but I think he ran out of time before the program was supposed to begin, so he purchased the vaccine from a pharmacy in the US and brought it on the plane with him from New York to Delhi. His thinking was that once he got to Delhi he would find a nurse, or some other qualified medical technician, who could administer the shot.

However the vaccine for Japanese Encephalitis, like I think most vaccines, needs to be kept refrigerated so that the contents of the vaccine don’t spoil (or whatever it is that happens to pharmaceuticals when they are no longer in their proper state).

So here Bob is, on a plane, with a white paper pharmacy bag, containing a vial of Japanese Encephalitis vaccine, for about 30 hours. That vial had warmed to room temperature long before we reached the hot and humid streets of mid-August Delhi.

After a day or two of orientation, Bob went in search of a medical professional, and carted that same white pharmacy bag around steamy Delhi for another 2 days before he found someone to stick the warm Japanese Encephalitis vaccine in his arm.

And surprise, surprise… by evening Bob was laid up in bed sicker than a dog. Pasty and pale, diarrhea and sweating. He was in bed for three or four straight days.

Now most of us assumed that Bob was probably suffering from a combination of Delhi Belly and a reaction to the stale Japanese Encephalitis shot that he had been carrying around, un-refrigerated, for days.

But not Bob. He was pretty sure his sickness stemmed from eating vegetarian. What could be worse than eating lots of vegetables?

Right when Bob started feeling better, his first destination out of his room was to a Subway sandwich shop (yes, they have the American chain Subway in urban India) not too far from our hostel. He ate a sandwich stacked with three different kinds of meat. He felt better later in the evening, and much better the following day.

Bob attributed his miraculous recovery to the amazing power of meat. This only reinforced his original idea that he had gotten sick because for a week he was “forced” to eat so many vegetarian dishes.

Even as an undergraduate I had my international educator’s hat on. This was the excerpt from my journal:

After several vocal comments at dinner last night I pulled [Bob] aside and said that study abroad is about pushing your boundaries and being outside your comfort zone. I told him that he should take this as a learning opportunity about how other people may feel in the United States when roles are reversed. Often times, as a vegetarian, you have fewer meal options, you have to eat something you might not necessarily want, or you might have to do without. It can be very frustrating. I told him that for the first time, many students are able to go to a restaurant here and pick anything they want off of a menu without being worried about what could be in the dish, and that feeling is new and liberating for us. I told him that we don’t want him to “convert” but that we ask that he be more flexible and understand that it might be harder, because it is often harder for us in the US, and it is good to see the reverse side of an issue.

Sadly, Bob didn’t take my heart-to-heart truly to heart, and spent a majority of his remaining time in India hunting down US fast food chains like Subway, Pizza Hut, Domino’s, and McDonald’s. When we were stationed in Jaipur for six weeks he would have Domino’s Pizzas delivered to his host family’s house each night–I worry what that family’s impression of American students was after his stay!

So the moral of the story is… refrigerate Japanese Encephalitis vaccines and eat more vegetables!

Khasi Bazaar

In the US we have turkey for Thanksgiving, and some people have ham for Christmas, but in Nepal when it’s time for Dashain only one kind of meat will do—khasi ko masu—goat meat.

In preparation for the main day of Dashain, called Dashami—tikka day– P, his dad, his dad’s friend (“Uncle”), and I went to the Khasi Bazaar [Goat Market]. The market consisted of the sidewalk on both sides of the road filled with roped up tarp tents and lines of goats tied to strings and posts. A second part of the market was down a small alleyway where goat pens where stuffed with goats. Small weighing stations consisting of a metal cage for the goat, counter balanced by a platform and heavy metal weights were scattered throughout the market so customers could buy their animal by the kilo.

Before we got into a taxi to go to the market I asked P’s dad what kind of goat we were looking for. “About 30-35 kilos, long legs, not too fat, brown in color, because brown goats are nice to look at.” We found goats of all sizes and colors—black, white, spotted, brown. Daddy at first seemed displeased. He said that these goats were from the Terai [plains of Nepal bordering India], he could tell because of their long ears, and they seemed to be too fat. “Not good,” he said, “We don’t eat the fat.”

We circled around the market for a while, and finally settled on a goat that they had spotted earlier. It was a darker brown goat with even darker brown, almost black, streaks, and small horns. The goat was untied from its post and Uncle picked it up to test its weight. Then the goat was ushered into one of the metal cages for an official weigh in. P’s dad haggled the price, and the goat was ours.

I took its rope and gently led it out of the market saying, “Aao khasi, aao.”[come goat, come]. I wanted the goat treated nicely since it only had a few more hours left of its life. We found a taxi and opened the back hatch and loaded the goat in the back so that it was standing behind the back seat and on top of the spare tire. There was just enough space in the back section of the taxi for the goat, almost like the space was designed for goat travel. P’s dad, myself and P sat in front of the goat on our way home. I pet its head to make it feel more relaxed.

When we got home the goat was unloaded and brought to the back of the house to eat some grass. P and I pulled up clumps from the ground and put our hands up to the goat’s mouth and he happily chewed. After a few minutes P’s dad lead the goat inside the house and two people—P’s dad pulling the string from the front and “Uncle” swatting at the goat from the back—led the goat upstairs to the roof.

The goat was tied in the corner and Mamu give it leaves from the cauliflower she was cleaning for Dashain meals, and we gave it a large pan of water. It bleated a few times then settled down in the shade.

Khasi is thakai.” J Phupu said [goat is tired].

When I pass the goat on the way up to the second roof top (above the kitchen) where P is flying some changa [kites] I feed the goat some more cauli leaves.

Tomorrow the goat will be cut up for Dashami meat, some going to Uncle, some going to P’s relatives, and the rest eaten for the holidays. Daddy said in the morning he would take the goat to the butcher to be killed, cleaned and to have the larger sections of the goat separated (head, thighs, mid-section, etc), but that he was going to Uncle’s house to get a khukuri knife so that they could cut up the larger sections from the butcher into smaller sections.

“You will see, tomorrow.” He said.

“Hot, Fresh, Sweet”

This post is dedicated to our DEAR FRIEND D who said last night, “I know what C’s blog post will be about tomorrow…  I even know the title” and who was sad that a few posts ago I referred to him as “our neighbor D” and thus felt demoted in relationship status.

As many of you probably know, Hurricane Irene blew through New England on Sunday. It also happened to be my birthday. We spent much of the weekend sitting around the apartment with Mamu and Daddy talking about what a hurricane is, and how they are different/similar from/to other weather events. I think they were both a little nervous and a little excited—they were curious to see what a “hurricane” was like, but worried that something would maybe happen to them. Mamu would stand near the window watching the trees bend and say, “Hurricane is coming…”

We had some gusty winds, but never lost power (although it seems a lot of other people around us did), and didn’t have the same flooding problems as other places an hour or two drive north or west of us. By evening the weather calmed enough for us to even go out for a little birthday dinner and cake.

After Irene blew through the weather cooled off, so I thought I would experiment with some “American autumn” inspired food. Always on the lookout for foods that I love, that I could try and introduce to Mamu and Daddy, during our pre-Irene grocery shopping I snuck a bag of brussels sprouts and a butternut squash into our cart.

Attempt #1: On Saturday I decided to pair the sautéed (in olive oil, garlic, salt and fresh ground pepper) Brussels sprouts—or “baby banda” (cabbage) as I called them—with the vegetable curry that Mamu made. P and I were practically fighting over the sprouts… but I saw Daddy push a few around his plate, and eventually toss the two or three half pieces that he couldn’t manage to eat into the garbage before washing his plate. I guess the “baby bandas” were a “fail”–my guess is that they were still too “raw” (crunchy) for their taste, but overcooked brussel sprouts are really bad and bitter, so “what to do?

Attempt #2: Again Mamu had some taarkari left over from lunch, and made a pot of rice, but I decided to whip up a quick butternut squash bisque. I sliced up the butternut—

“Is it a pharsi? [pumpkin]” Daddy asked.

“It’s in the pharsi family, it’s a butternut squash” I explained.

When I sliced open the round bottom part of the butternut and scooped out the seeds with a spoon Daddy said, “It is a pharsi! Look at the seeds!”

“Yes,” I responded, “pharsi family different type.”

—then sautéed some sliced onions, garlic, salt and pepper, added the butternut, and then a few cups of water and some veggie bullion. I let it boil, covered, for about ten minutes until the butternut was soft, and then poured the whole soup into the blender and pureed. Lastly I heated the pureed soup with a bit of whole milk mixed in for creaminess, and then brought it to the dinner table in a serving bowl.

I turned back to the kitchen to grab bowls for everyone but before I returned to the table Mamu and Daddy had already ladled my “pharsi soup” on to their heaping piles of rice—“like daal!” Mamu exclaimed.

“Whatever gets you excited about it” I thought.

I returned the bowls to the kitchen, keeping one for D and myself, since we both elected to eat my soup like soup.

While we ate I asked Mamu if she liked the dish. She smacked her lips and declared, “I like… hot, fresh, sweet!”

D started giggling… “I know what C’s blog post will be about tomorrow” he said, “I even know what the title will be!”

Mamu, Daddy and P had a few more spoons of “pharsi soup—like daal” on their rice while I finished up my large bowl.

Finally an American culinary win!

I’ll take it, “like daal” or not!

Bumper Sticker

P and I were driving south this morning with Mamu and Daddy. We dropped them in Philadelphia with P’s brother and circled back to New Hope, Pennsylvania for a wedding on Friday.

As P was driving close to the Connecticut/New York border he said, “Hey, C, here’s a bumper sticker for you.”

"NO Rice"

I’m not quite sure if this has some sort of other meaning, but I’m taking it literally. Although I hate to be thought of as the person who “hates rice”–because seriously I don’t!–I just would prefer to eat it only once a day, maybe 6 days a week, rather than every meal.

However, I did think this bumper sticker was photo worthy ;)

Vindication!

As noted in some previous posts (Please, no more rice! and the Pasta/Rice Wars) P and I occasionally disagree over what to eat for dinner. Now let’s be honest… rice generally wins out. We eat far (far) more rice than pasta on a daily basis, however there are those days where “Ke khana?” or “What’s for dinner?” becomes a debate with one of us responding…. “[pasta/rice] again?”

So last night when we got home from work P was reading something on his laptop when he solemnly said, “Bad news Merf, come see.” I thought it was something serious, so I jumped up to read over his shoulder, and then I saw he was reading an article in The Guardian newspaper from the UK. The title and byline read, “The world’s favourite foods: interactive—Pasta has been named the world’s favourite food, narrowly beating meat or rice dishes and pizza, in a new global survey by Oxfam into the way the world eats today.” [emphasis mine].

Pasta is the winner—woot woot, happy dance.

Even though the Guardian vindicated my pasta pushing, I can’t help but admit I’m surprised. With the populations of China and India alone I’m shocked that pasta can beat out rice. Last night D, P and I were talking about it at dinner—reasoning that Latin American and Caribbean countries often eat rice and bean combos not to mention all the rice inspired Asian cuisines. That seems like a lot of the world pop right there. African countries have their own staples—like corn meal cakes (ugali in East Africa), cous cous (North Africa), or fufu (in West/Central Africa), and although the US and Europe eat quite a bit of pasta, it just doesn’t seem to be enough to beat out rice.

I wish the report was fleshed out more, with some links to the Oxfam study, but I’ll take my small victory for now, particularly with P’s parents arriving on June 29th, I think I’m going to be eating a lot of rice in the next few months.

If you want to see the article and scroll over countries to see the most widely eaten foods click HERE.

Oops! Spoke too soon… BCC actually had a more fleshed out article that you can read HERE which explains that after Italy Venezuela is one of the top consumers of pasta with Tunisia, Chile and Peru, Mexico, Argentina and Bolivia in the top ten (who would have thought?) and that Brazil’s favorite dish is actually Lasagne!

Maybe I can continue my happy dance. Pass the marinara please!

Grilled Cheese

P came back from Nepal on Saturday (hurray!), and brought lots of wedding related goodies, which I’ll blog about at another time. However instead I thought I’d take a few minutes to talk about grilled cheese sandwiches.

An American friend of ours is having a dinner gathering tonight, and on the menu is grilled cheese. P said, “Do people really eat grilled cheese… for dinner?”

Cheese is not very high on the Asian list of tasty foods (South or East, unless you count all the milk-cheese related products consumed in Mongolia, but those cheeses are decidedly a whole different category). Although I think P has grown an appreciation for (Western style) cheese over time having been exposed to lots of varities of cheese through me and my family (hard cheese, soft cheese, moldy cheese, smelly cheese– give me a cheese platter as an hors d’oeuvre any day!), he is still not big into cheese sauces, mac and cheese, or cheese as a main course. Hence grilled cheese sandwiches (to him) just sound a bit unfilling and perhaps unappetizing.

I haven’t had a grilled cheese in ages, so I’m pretty excited. I guess that is one of the perks of living with someone from a different culture– since you eat a lot of different kinds of foods something a local would consider relatively mundane and boring all of a sudden becomes exciting and different.

It reminds me of the semester I spent in India. I was living with a group of American students, but since we stayed in homestay families, guest houses (when traveling), and ashrams (on one particularly colorful field trip), we generally ate a lot of Indian food. But after weeks of daal, curry, roti, and rice, many of our American palates began craving American foods. One food that really helped with nostalgia was what our Indian cooks were calling “cheese toast.”

It started while we were taking Hindi language classes in Mussorie, Uttaranchal. We would spend the morning walking up the steep (crazy steep!) hill station roads to our language class, spend the entire morning working on language acquisition  skills, and then head back down the hill to the guest house for lunch. It was the end of the rainy season, and it was often pouring and damp, and heavy rain frequently knocked out the electricity. “Cheese toast” (and  soup) day was enough of a pick-me-up to send us careening down the slippery hill after class fighting to be the first person in line for the grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches.

After a while we found that “cheese toast” was often found on various menus as we traveled across India, particularly in touristy cafes (not that we ate in those cafes all the time– but every now and then). Other Westernized dishes didn’t come out tasting as good– pasta in red sauce, mac and cheese, pizza, but “cheese toast” really hit the spot when the stomach needed a small reminder of home.

I can’t remember the last time I had a grilled cheese sandwich. I hardly ever ate them in the US before I went to India and used it as my “I need a taste from home” meal. But I’m pretty excited to have one tonight.

MMMM… my mouth is watering just thinking about it!

“Chicken’s Younger Brother”

To continue with posts on food I don’t usually eat, but have had so far this week… today’s post is about jackfruit or katahar (कटहर) in Nepali, and also happened to have been my dinner last night.

According to wikipedia, jackfruit is the “largest tree borne fruit in the world, reaching 80 pounds (36 kg) in weight and up to 36 inches (90 cm) long and 20 inches (50 cm) in diameter.” It’s also the national fruit of Bangladesh! They are massive yellowish-green fruits with a thick bumpy outer skin, almost spiky but too dull to poke you.

While visiting a friend’s village in the Terai region of Nepal in 2009 we stacked the back of the car with large jackfruits to bring back to his family in Kathmandu, but it wasn’t until last night that I actually tried one.

Can of jackfruit used for dinner last night

The fruit is sometimes referred to as “vegetarian chicken” or as D poetically put it last night, “chicken’s younger brother” (while AS said, “shhh… don’t say that or C won’t eat it!”). It gets this reputation by how “meat-like” the vegetable can be, especially after cooking.

I’ve never been big on fake meat, mostly because I was never a big fan of the taste and texture of real meat, and thus lack that “meat nostalgia” some vegetarians struggle with. Sure I’ll eat veggie burgers (most don’t look or taste much like meat burgers anyway), and on very very rare occasions I might try some veggie sausage for breakfast, but that is about the extent of it. So eating a fruit that has the look and texture of meat was kind of strange and a bit unnerving.

jackfruit curry, left overs after dinner was finished.

Can you believe this is a *vegetable*?--jackfruit on my dinner plate... when you pull the individual pieces of jackfruit apart the pieces pull apart just like real meat. I swear this almost looks like pulled pork! The fruit also has small "eyes" in it that look similar to meat fat or bone sockets.

The taste was fine, but it took me a bit to get over the texture.

Final analysis: would I eat it again? Sure. Is it my favorite? No. There are lots of other “kinda like meat” Nepali foods that I would rate much higher… like masura or titora, even nutri-(soya) nuggets.

We also ate fried parbar as well. Unfortunately no one at the dinner table knew what “parbar” was in English, and I can’t find it online. Found in Indian grocery stores, it is a small oblong shaped green vegetable that can be sliced into quarters, the seeds removed, and fried with spices to make a snack. I should have taken a picture, but since we had 10 people for dinner, and I was already whipping out the camera for the jackfruit, I didn’t want to go overboard. If anyone knows what the English name is, please let me know!

— update:

Yes! It was “pointed gourd!”According to wikipedia it is sometimes colloquially called “green potato” in South Asia… which makes sense, because once it was fried, I told AS it tasted a little like a spiced french fry with a peel.

This is what the uncut vegetable looks like:

they might look like cucumbers but they are different on the inside.