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Traveling in India: Food Culture

Okay, maybe that title is slightly misleading. When I was in India I ended up with dysentery so bad that I couldn’t eat much at all. But I do remember some of the things I ate or chewed upon.

I was in Meghalaya for a month and the Khasis tend to eat their food fairly plainly. Rice, chicken, beef, with these green, little bullet peppers on the side. Begung was one particular dish I remember (and the spelling is more phonetic than anything else). It was a dark green leafy vegetable chopped into small pieces and fermented or aged with something savory. Think Asian sauerkraut but completely different. They also made a beef jerky over the fire used to distill the local rice drink, kyat. This was like drinking very very green saki.

Khasis also eat a lot of boiled eggs. This got to be too much for us on the second day. At one point we got takeout. There aren’t many restaurants and takeout involved getting some kind of noodle dish served in a banana leaf. All biodegradable but now days they put those dishes wrapped in banana into a plastic bag for carrying and once you’ve finished eating you toss the leaf and the bag. It was a sad thing to see that Western culture was encroaching all the bad aspects there as well.

The one other item in Megahlaya that I tried wasn’t really a food item. It would go more into the realm of entertainment, or a side, or like smoking. This was kwai, or betel nut. The Khasis eat theirs fairly pure. You take a peppercorn leave–it’s actually a betel leaf though they called it peppercorn because of the peppery taste, put a dab of lime paste on it (this is not made from fruit). Then you take chopped up betel nut (or areca nut, which is similar to nutmeg in hardness and texture) and fold the leaf over the the ingredients. Then you chew and chew and chew. It’s very hard and takes the lime and the leaf to help break it down.

Betel nut is also a slight stimulant (and has been found to be a carcinogen). It tended to make me turn beet red, which everyone found quite funny. I didn’t notice more than a little rush. Many Khasis eat it often and it tends to stain the spit and therefore the lips red. One woman called it Khasi lipstick. Betel nut is eaten throughout India but it may be sugared, have candy sprinkles, spices or a host of other items to sweeten it up as it is pretty harsh and bitter. In India it is called paan.

Although I got into the habit of trying it in Meghalaya I didn’t continue in the rest of India because it was too sweet. Just as well since it is known for destroying gums and teeth because it is so hard. I remember being in some government buildings in India and seeing corners in halls stained red as if someone had been stabbed to death. People would just spit into the corners and it was never cleaned up.

Through the rest of India, I actually didn’t get a chance to try as much as the food as I would have liked. Dhal (a lentil stew) was common but I can’t eat lentils. And I also had dysentery, which prevented me trying many of the dishes I wanted. I do remember the yogurt being remarkably creamy and not bitter like it is here. You could get a salty or a fruit lassi, made from yogurt and they were a lot of what I survived on when I was very sick.

I’m afraid I never got to try curries and other local dishes. By the end of the two months I was too sick to remember much about the food, except to stay away from the Campa Cola, which was made in Italy but shipped to India because it was carcinogenic. What fun. It’s one regret, that I never got to try more foods while there, especially because I love spicy.

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Happy Barackobamaday

It’s got a certain ring to it, doesn’t it?

It’s Obama Tuesday and the end of an old regime is being punted far and wide. We must not forget to thank George Bush. After all, he’s given us such lovely catch phrases as “axis of evil,” “war on terror,” and not new to him alone but well beaten into the ground: “weapons of mass destruction,” except these ones were make believe.

But then, George should have known what they looked like because which country is the only one to have ever used a weapon of mass destruction? Why the US of course, on Hiroshima. And therefore you’d think he would have a few fellas who would know what they looked like, but even they couldn’t find any in Iraq.

We can thank George for invading other countries, for incarcerating prisoners of war in Guantanamo without voice, counsel or aid because he called them terrorists. Sure, some may have been but without any legal aid, how do we know? George’s voice and his catch phrases made me cringe so much I couldn’t stand listening to him.

We can thank George for bringing the US dollar to its lowest point in recent history. And though it could be argued he’s not directly to blame for these things, I’m sure there is lots of correlation between the highest price of oil, the financial crashes, oh and the highest number of troops dead since Viet Nam. Thanks, George. You’ve made sure you won’t be forgotten and you’ve replaced tricky Dicky as the most reviled president ever. Yep, that makes you number one. In fact, Al Capone kinda looks nice in comparison.

Let’s not forget that Georgie has also brought us very close to World War III, with threats to Iran and Korea. But that’s all right, he knew he was right and God was on his side (weren’t the Crusaders saying this as they skewered men, women and children too?), and he has remained unrepentant. There’s seems to be one light burning in the dim fog of George’s eight-year folly; he did supposedly bring more aid to a beleaguered and often overlooked Africa. No one is pure evil (I hope.)

In Vancouver, pubs and cafes are planning on holding Barack parties tonight. Remember, this is Canada where we don’t make a fuss if a movie star walks by us and we don’t party crazily for our own (lackluster) politicians, let alone a US president. But let’s face it, next to George Bush, even Nixon could have done better. That Barack Obama is charismatic, good looking and a great orator certainly doesn’t hurt. That he seems to have integrity and is of mixed race is even better. He will hopefully not be (possibly never could be) as bigoted as Bush’s regime. (Does anyone remember hurricane Katrina and the reticent aid there?)

But Barack has a huge pile of doo-doo to clean up and George even wrecked the shovels. That’s a lot to carry and he’ll be walking a tightrope between not fulfilling the wild dreams and wishes of Americans and in doing what he can with a now much more limited budget. I doubt he’ll be perfect. We are, after all, human. But I really hope Barack will keep his religion far from his politics. It’s fine to be religious, just not to push that into your governance.

Barack, I wish you well. The hope of not just a nation falls on your shoulders, but the hope of the world. We know you’ll pull us back from the brink of suicidal, egomaniacal war. But you have corrupt systems left, right and center to deal with (let’s see, car companies, oil companies, CIA, FBI, weapons manufacturers, fundamentalists, NRA, etc.) and they make up some of the foundation of good ole America.

I’ll raise a toast to Barack tonight as a light that can only get brighter. And I’ll say so long, Georgie. Don’t let the White House gate whack your ass on the way out. Hope your resume is up to date. But who knows, maybe we’ll see you in the news again when they charge you with war crimes.

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