The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

A couple of questions have exercised me for years. How was kulfi prepared in the Indian summer? And what did our brethren (and sisthren) eat before the ubiquitous onions and potatoes and tomatoes entered the scene?

I'm pleased to announce the answers to these and other foodie questions every foodie must have asked itself (or herself or himself) in the brief pauses between consuming food.

Check out this article in the Star, a Canadian paper. Note the historical flavour and flow of its exegesis. It starts with the possible diet of the desi twenty centuries ago: lentils, rice, wheat, legumes, lotus stems, gourds (bitter and not), squash (but see [1]), eggplants, and peas - spiced with turmeric and fenugreek, cumin, black pepper and mustard seeds.

With the advent of military Islam came the Arabic, Afghan and Persian influence on Indian food (mainly North Indian). The great styles of Mughlai and Nawabi cuisines owe much to these influences. Saffron was a new spice that entered the cuisine at the time.

The arrival of the Portuguese in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries no doubt introduced the vegetables of the New World (potatoes and tomatoes and hot chillies) as well as fruit (pineapples, papayas and guavas). An interesting aside is the quotation by Purandaradasa, who sang paeans to the hot chilli:saviour of the poor, enhancer of good food.

So how was the kulfi made in the Indian summer? It appears that ice was crushed with salt, the resulting solution attaining subzero temperatures. This was then used to pack the kulfi mix to freeze it. Hundreds of years before, the Persians had mastered the art of freezing food. As pointed out in this article, large mountainous vessels called yakh-chals, cooled by air, were used to store cold articles prepared in winter. The cooling effects lasted well into summer. A similar air-cooled refrigerator, brought no doubt by the Persians or Afghans into India was very likely the source of ice during the hot summers there as well.


1. According to this article, the Indian subcontinent is responsible only for four vegetables: snowpeas, eggplants, Indian mustard (leaves) and the cucumber.
2. This article claims that Indian vegetables such as spinach and artichoke were introduced by the Arabs into Europe.


Szerelem said...

Oh, I really enjoyed that article. (It also made me very hungry.) There should be more studies on food, I say!

Fëanor said...

Hiya and welcome.

Did you see this piece on Bartolomeo Scappi? Now that was totally mouthwatering (as the autorickshaw-wallahs used to say to the college girls in Vallabh Vidyanagar :-).

Dash it, now I'm hungry.

Anonymous said...

Feanor: Good post but as they are doing re-runs of Goodness Gracious Me on BBC-4, I am going to say like Sanjiv Bhaskar:

Good food? Indian! Spices? Indian! Kulfi? Indian! ;-)

PS: Am hoping to take a friend to Benares in Mayfair next week. Atul Kochhar just got his second Michelin (the first was at Tamarind which I never visited) so let's see how it turns out.

PPS: Michelin Star? Indian! :-P

Fëanor said...

Shefaly: Benares is mighty fine. Enjoy! Went there about a year ago with a couple of pals, one of whom was an old friend of Mr Kochhar, the other a Serb who hated veggies and mutton. By the end of meal, the Serb was converted to the wonders of mutton rogan josh. Good times!

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