Monday, July 08, 2013

I am no hot potato?

I was settling into a conversation when the friend had to get going. I was left talking with myself as the only option.  The story of my life.

To use Rodney Dangerfield's punchline, I don't get no respect.  I start talking and friends clear the room. I start lecturing in class and students yawn (right, Zach?)  I suspect that after birth when I cried to get oxygen into me, the midwife became comatose!

"So, drop me like a hot potato" I complained.

"Hot? You?" was the response.

A reminder, yet again, that I don't get no respect.  What will I ever do without friends like these! ;)

To use an expression like "hot potato" is, if we think about it, yet another way in which we demonstrate that it is a remarkably globalized world in which we live.

To begin with, here I am using a language that is not the language, Tamil, that I first learnt.  The mother tongue, as we always referred to in the old country.

And then the potato. A phenomenal example of globalization all by itself.

A couple of years ago, my cousin and her husband were heading to Peru for its typical tourist attractions.  She is a committed vegetarian, like how we were all raised.  "You have no worries" I told her.  "After all, you  can have all the potatoes you want."

I bet that was not the first time my response sounded gobbledygook to the other person.  So, I explained that Peru is the geographic home for potatoes.

With their fascination for potatoes, the Irish and the Indians and people all over the world might incorrectly think that their people have always had potatoes.  Not so.

My paternal grandmother, who lived with us throughout most of my childhood--she died when I was in high school--referred to a bunch of different vegetables as "English vegetables" for a good reason: they were not native to the geography and culture, and they were foreign.  Almost always, anything foreign became "English" thanks to the British Raj.

The family lore is that when her brother went to Bombay many, many decades ago, he stayed with one of the extended family members.  A special, very special, vegetable was served at lunch for him--green beans.  Yes, one of those "English vegetables" that was rare back in the village. 

We now routinely use potatoes.  Almost every single day, anywhere on this planet.  Often, when I make a potato dish, I use garlic, onions, ginger, cilantro, chili flakes.

Extending my grandmother's framework, this combination of potatoes with other ingredients is not even English, but is international, if we go by the geographic origins:
Potato: Peru
Chili: South America
Cilantro: Mediterranean
Ginger: Tamil Nadu (India)
Garlic: China?
Awesome, no?  Only ginger is truly Indian!  It might shock Indians to realize that even their beloved coriander (cilantro) is not really Indian, but is Mediterranean!  Rarely is anything in life what it seems on the outside!

Well, whether or not I am dropped as a "hot" potato, I love well-made potato dishes.  Especially the Locro I had in Ecuador.  Every once in a while, I cook potatoes, like this one that I made quite some months ago and had with a store-purchased paratta.  (yes, I have way too many photos of my food creations; I need therapy!)

I might as well end it with a tribute to my grandmother's fascination for "English vegetables" with a dish (green beans with paneer) made in a foreign country by a grandson who has been, for quite a few years, a foreigner when visiting India :)

I bet the friend had no idea that a "hot potato" comment would end up as a lengthy post at my blog! Maybe I will gain some respect, after all. Maybe!


Ramesh said...

Add the tomato, which came from Mexico and much of the veggies that we love today really came from South America. Prior to the Spanish marauding over LatAm, the rest of the world had food without potatoes, tomatoes .......

Add tea, which came to India from China only some 100+ years ago . 18th century Indian food might not even be recognisable to us !!

Sudha will surely now say you CAN write about ANYTHING :):)

You are a "hot" blogger; so please don't drop the hot potato!

Sriram Khé said...

Yep ... we won't recognize Indian foods from 1813, leave alone 1713. Imagine if we were to be served the dinner that even Raja Raja Cholan typically might have had--most of us have way more tasty and exciting foods now, I would think ;)
For that matter, why go that much ... take the humble coffee that every Tamilian starts the day with ... ain't Indian by any means coffee is--Ethiopian!

BTW, it was not Sudha who dropped me like a hot potato--she would never, ever do that ... hehe ;)

Most read this past month