developmentaliste

A thinker, dreamer, idealist, ardent observer and traveller

Category: seasonal foods

Culinary Journeys

I love juicy fruits. Sometimes I do not feel like drinking plain water. Having squashes during winter seems a bit strange to me. I tried drinking fruit flavoured green teas. Unfortunately, the artifical essences overpower the bits of fruit that are the namesake of the products. One of the pleasures of travelling is that you get introduced to new ways of consuming fruits. In this case fruit teas, which you can easily make at home. When I went to Colombia once, I was introduced to a burst of flavours dreams are made of.

cartagena

Bright lights of Cartagena

When I was in Columbia, one of the interesting experiences was drinking fruit teas. I even got to taste a pumpkin spice latté type drink. Made with wholesome ingredients, devoid of artificial flavourings. Discovering that one could create a hot drink with pumpkin pulp flavoured with cinnamon and a touch of nutmeg was a completely new experience and emphasised the connection between food and culture.

I am aware that different geographical regions have their own cuisines. They may use similar spices in different ways. The cooking methods may even be similar, such as in the South East/East Asian stir fries. There are multinational variations of the patty-puff that South Asians know as the samosa, the Arabs know as sambusek, Indonesians and Malaysians call curry puff. In other words the same thing, different pronounciations, if not interpretations. Similarly, what the Indians call aloo tikki, the Pakistanis call aloo ka cutlet, or the English call potato cutlet. Hence while food and drinks have a way of bringing people together, they are also ways to get an insight into cultural relationships with ingredients.

Colombia is a beautiful country. Apart from the natural beauty, I was introduced to an entirely new world of anti-oxidant rich fruits and foods. My fruit obsession was catered to. I became acquainted with different varieties of passion fruits. I was only aware of the tiny wrinkled dark purple version. The yellow version is called grenadilla. It is not wrinkled and compared to the purple version, significantly bigger. The other version is greenish/ greenish yellow and called maracuja, which is usually used to make fruit tea due to its slightly bitter taste. It is also used as an alternative to lemon juice in culinary dishes.

Another interesting fruit I tried was chontaduro, also known as palm peach. It is a very fleshy, but slightly dry fruit and rich in Vitamin A. It is sold as a street food. You can choose to either have it drizzled with honey, salt or just plain. From my experience it really beats any kind of cravings you might have for sweet or salty snacks.

lacervicheria

When I went to Cartagena, I tried another fruit called Sapote. In Colombia they have black sapote and South American Sapote. I tried the South American Sapote. This is an interesting fruit. It has brown skin, a little less hairy than a kiwi fruit. Or shall I say, more like a shaved kiwi fruit. It is about the size of a cantaloupe melon. While slightly less juicy, it has the same colour on the inside and has a tart sweetness like a mango.

As for delicious food, I feasted on black squid ink risotto and different versions of ceviche to my hearts content. Raw fish pieces, prawns and tiny squids and calamari “cold-processed” in the citric acids of lemon juice have always fascinated me since I was introduced to the concept on a television cooking show. Some ceviche versions are more fruity due to the addition of mango and papaya instead of sliced onions. I even tried a version with maracuja instead of lemon juice which rendered a sweet sourness to the dish. I also indulged in a gold covered chocolate cake and a succulent cheese cake.

gold covered chocolate cake

One thing I like about buying fruit from the street peddlers in Colombia is that they peel and slice it for you on the spot. When you buy it from a stall keeper, the fruits are usually already peeled, so you can walk along eating it with a wooden tooth pick.

Finally, as for snacks, I am familiar with chili flavoured chocolate, which is rather unappealing to my tastebuds. However I sampled chili-mango flavoured ice lollies, which was an interesting combination. Nevertheless that might be because the Pakistani, or shall I say South Asian fruit salad is spicy. The spice mix used, called chaat masala, contains chili, black pepper, cumin and coriander, black salt and dried mango powder, together with the sweetness of the seasonal fruits blend well to create a pleasant sweet sourness. If you like that kind of flavoursome combinations that is.

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Seasonal Variety

Over the years I have come to appreciate and actually celebrate the coming of winter and autumn as much as spring and summer. Denmark has all 4 seasons, which are beautifully represented through the floral variety in a suburban backyard. Winter was only enjoyable when it snowed and before the snow turned to grey slush. Even if it is minus degrees you never really feel the cold indoors because everywhere is centrally heated. Similarly, Pakistan also has 4 seasons, but winter there is an annoying season for me. The air smells of decomposing rubbish. Due to lack of central heating you need gas heaters and to handle the cold you have to be wrapped up in sweaters and woolen shawls, even indoors.

The only enjoyable part of the winter season in Pakistan, for me, is the seasonal variety in edibles. You can eat dry fruits a plenty, apricots, figs, raisins, mulberries, all kinds of nuts and candies as accompaniment to the latter. It is rather pleasant to have a combination of freshly roasted peanuts with a candy called Rewari, made with raw sugar, clarified butter/Ghee and sesame seeds, with a cup of warm milk or tea and a spoonful of honey.

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revadi

The local varieties of carrot and pumpkins are wonderful ingredients in both savoury and sweet dishes because they are juicy, succulent and sweet. Winter is also the season of apples and oranges of different varieties, pomegranate, beetroot, cauliflower, and cabbage.

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In my opinion, Pakistan is the best place for a diet rich in seasonal, and fresh produce. For the foodie in me, there was always room for experimenting with different ingredients and cuisines. Winter was always a favourite season for Chinese dishes. Through cooking I was constantly searching new opportunities to explore Pakistan and its society, like a little child enjoying the frollicking in a playground with swings, slides and climbing castles.

In this connection, I have to say, my parents’ dedication and patriotism is admirable. They always stocked up on rice, pulses, spices, mangoes, sweet meats, dry fruits, decoration pieces and other interesting paraphernalia on our holidays, to ensure their children never lost the taste of Pakistan. However, maybe I took this persistence on belonging and identity too literally. Yet, it was necessary to go to Pakistan to define my own individuality and personal identity. This is because blood will always be thicker than water, but in order to silence the emotional noise of the heart and better listen to the rationality of the mind, you might have to take the long and tortuous road to self-discovery and hence burst that pink bubble of self-delusion that the grass is greener on the other side.

Autumn leaf

In retrospect many people claim the past is truly gone, buried and forgotten. It is also claimed the past makes the present and the present makes your future. In this connection is it even possible to build something out of nothing or sheer ignorance? Hard earned experiences become those tiny drops which eventually form the ocean of your life’s work. I suppose, as long as you just keep on making baby steps towards a distant, hazy goal, you will eventually get there by the time you reach your 60s or 70s. As the adage goes, better late than never. After all, the tortoise won the proverbial race.

In connection with the above, just like the calendar year has different seasons, life has its own cycles of ups, downs and still seasons. They tend to be coloured by joy, laughter, tears and sometimes all of them simultaneously. This is how we grow and heal. We shed old skin, just like plants and trees shed their leaves; grow new ones and bloom as the weather gets warmer.