He also believed in making me swallow green beans and broccoli and white fish (I'm used to sweetwater/rive fish and fresh, organic vegetables, and their American counterparts hold little appeal), insisting I make a good healthy daal every now and then, tempting me to breakfast (I tend to skip breakfasts) with a delicious cheesy eggs-on-ham, having cook-offs to establish recipe-authenticity, keeping ham, bacon and lettuce and home-made meat sauce at hand, so that when hunger pangs struck, he could whip up a toasted sandwich or a steaming dish of pasta to keep the "greasy and expensive" home-deliveries at bay. Also, he introduced me to clam chowder, Mexican food and stuffed turkeys, cooked me (and his family) five-course Christmas supper from scratch, showed me how to make strawberry shortcakes, a French dressing with three ingredients, and whip up yummy nutty-creamy-caramely desserts in minutes.
I loved that man.
Anyway, but the point is, between home and my offshore love, I took stocking food completely for granted. But now that my chum Dea has finally made her pantry list (and it's a great list, rice and lentils and beans. Her doctor would be proud of her), I'm beginning to realise how different food-storage is across the oceans. Back in Boston, even when the snow was cleared regularly and the supermarket was a seven minute drive away, my aforementioned sweetheart would still stock his deep fridge (freezer) with steaks, chicken breasts, pork chops, bacon, sausages, prawns, and other unnamed (to me, anyway) cuts of the pig, cow and fowl. He'd also have packets of peas and corn (bhutta, seeds separated from the cob) in there, plus tins of refried beans, several kinds of soups, gravy, and vegetables in shelves.
Everything else was fine--and I was grateful he didn't have to make gravy every time we ate pork chops or roasted birds--but tinned vegetables are awful! Except tomatoes. Tinned tomatoes make a perfect and MUCH cheaper substitute for fresh tomatoes in pasta sauces.
Plus his fridge was always chockful of butter, several kinds of cheese (extra sharp cheddar and grated parmesan, esp.), an enormous variety of sauces that I'd never even seen before, pastries, bagels and croissants he picked up at the supermarket's in-house bakery, plus chocolate and caramel sauce, whipped cream, milk, half and half, at least four kinds of ice-cream, and ye gods, ketchup (yes, I despise ketchup, thank you). Of these, my Indian fridge has a small 100gm slab of butter, and a half litre pack of whole milk. In the US, a supermarket pack of extra sharp cheddar might have found space.
And that's not even going into non-perishables like rice, beans and lentils. In the one and three-fourths year we were together, he had to buy rice once. Once. I think the distant memory of harsh winters and self-preservatory winter-hoarding instincts are encoded into western genes. Just like the self-preservatory instincts of not having heat-rotted food inside the homestead is encoded into tropical genes. Nothing else explains the compulsion to buy just enough food to last short periods, in this day and age of fridges and vegetable crispers and deep fridges.
For example, in a small family like ours, we get our groceries by the month, delivered from our local grocery shop (which does NOT sell fruit juice, sweets or chocolates, toys, greetings cards, dairy products, meat or produce). The usual list includes:
- rice, parboiled (5-6 kilos), kaljeera/gobindobhog (500-700 gms), basmati (500 gms).
- mushur daal (500-700 gms). For list of staple daals, see this.
- moog daal -- the preparating is 'richer', therefore eaten less frequently (250 gms).
- atta or wheat flour (2 kgs)
- moida or refined/all-purpose flour (1 kg)
- sunflower oil (1 ltr)
- mustard oil (2 ltrs)
- sugar (1 kg)
Vegetables and fish are bought every Saturday from the local bazaars and eaten through the week. A sample from last Saturday's bazaar-list: potatoes, onions (we only get pungent reds), green chilies, ginger, one small garlic, two cauliflowers, two small brinjals, the leaves of the fenugreek plant (methir shaak, delicious!), red edible leaves (laal shaak), five or six bitter gourds, a bunch of radishes, one slice of a sunshine-yellow pumpkin, and one slice of aeNchor, the English name of which escapes me. Unripe jackfruit, I think. Then we bought 600 gms of rui machh (a kind of river carp), a fistful of living tyangra machh, and 500 gms of chicken -- slaughtered and plucked right in front of us. Then on Sunday my mother had 500gms of apples, four bananas, and the last batches of musambi (sweet limes) delivered to our home.
So I suppose the actual content of the pantry (I eat far more vegetables, and of greater variety, at home than I ever did in the US) apart, the shopping process is also vastly different. Things are much more... ordered and controlled abroad. And clinical. There's no clamouring, bargaining, no temporary fruit shack on the footpath, no possibility if getting a fish head from a supermarket, and certainly no sqwaking chickens being beheaded swiftly in a spray of blood and feathers.
And now that I write that sentence, I think I know why so many Indians are vegetarians.