of Turkish Delight for sale in an Istanbul |
store window (Photo by TheMightyQuill)
In any case, I found the Turkish phrase curious, since it obviously had something to do with India, even though Turkey and India are not countries whose cuisines have much overlap. A quick Google search led me to find that “hindistan cevizli” is the Turkish name for nutmeg. Which is also curious, since nutmeg originally hails from Indonesia, not India. Did the name come from a historical misunderstanding, like when the “West Indies” gained its name from Christopher Columbus thinking he’d landed on the shores of India instead of the Americas? Not sure – I’ll have to do some more research and get back to you on this little mystery.
In the meantime, up until a few years ago, the ingredient I probably most associated with India would have been chili peppers. It was through food historian Dave DeWitt’s fabulous “spicy” cookbooks that I learned spicy chilis went from the Americas to Asia and that, until then, South Asians used white pepper and ginger to spice up their food. These days, I even use extra ginger as a substitute for chilis to tone down my Indian cooking for the kids’ sensitive palates. (It’s so delicious that it really amps up the flavor as well).
|(Photo by Snarkmaster)|
Also known as ginger root, it’s mostly used in the west in sweets (think ginger ale, gingerbread, ginger cookies), whereas in many eastern cultures, it’s used as a spice, such as in Burmese salads, Malaysian and Vietnamese soups, Korean kimchi, and of course that yummy pickled ginger used in Japanese sushi, noodles, and tofu. Both easterners and westerners add it to tea and coffee for extra flavor and sometimes for its natural medicinal properties, such as for digestion, anti-nausea, and its overall calming effect. But in India, ginger is commonly used in almost any kind of dish – from breakfast to dinner, main entrees to sides, drinks to desserts. I could make an entire meal using ginger – adding it to grains and lentils, meats (including marinades), breads, vegetables, salads, soups, puddings, and even a refreshing lemonade.
On the other hand, I’ve never tried white pepper in any Indian dish (not that it isn’t used somewhere, just that I’m not familiar with its use in Indian cooking). Black pepper, however, is a big cash crop in some parts of the country.
Perhaps the most unusual food I’ve tried in India (well, other than cow tongue) is Bombay duck, also called bombil, bummalo, or bumla. The fish is native to the waters between Mumbai and the district of Kutch on the western coast. It’s not actually poultry as the name suggests but seafood. And a not very attractive piece of fish, I might add. The English name is supposedly “lizard fish,” and that’s probably a generous name for it.
In many Mumbai restaurants and even in
little stalls street side, the fish is dried, salted, heavily seasoned,
battered, and deep fried before being served typically as an appetizer. Even
with all the prep work, it’s still extremely smelly (words just can’t convey).
It’s also bony and doesn’t have much meat on it. Yet it’s a favorite in many
cities along India’s western coast. And not sure how the Europeans prepare Bombay
duck, but before a short-lived EU ban on the product a decade ago, the UK alone imported
13 tons of the fish.
|In all its raw glory (Photo by sazerac2k)|
|Bombay duck, prettied up (Photo from tripadvisor.com)|
Don’t know about you, but I think I’ll pass on the bombil and help myself to another Turkish Delight.