Monday, 24 May 2010

Do you want salt with that?

"To all the flavours that the world said, 'No', to, India said, 'Yes please', and 'add salt'." (David Parr, late April 2010)

All countries and cultures have different cuisines, and obviously they all differ from each other. Some more so than others. In India I have noticed a particularly wide array of, shall we say, unusual flavours. Unusual to the British palate at any rate.

One of the ways that this manifests itself is through the liberal application of salt. I shall name a few examples that I have stumbled across over my time here.

My first experience of the salt obsession came through a drink called buttermilk. It was listed along with a number of other drinks that included fruit juice, milkshakes and yoghurt. I thus assumed that it would be a flavoured milk with a creamy taste.

In fact it was something akin to salty butter in a glass and was one of the most unpleasant things I have ever tasted. I didn't drink more than one sip.

A variation of this drink is called chaas. It's essentially salty yoghurt. I am trying my hardest to like it but I fear the best result I can hope for is indifference. Weirdly enough it is my manager's favourite drink.

In March the tea boy (chai walla) in the Chennai office came round with what was described as lime juice (nimbu pani). Excellent, I thought. It's a hot day and what could be more refreshing? I gulped it down only to realise that, of course, a liberal helping of salt had been added.

Again, this is taking some getting used to. I have arrived (or reached) a point where I don't hate it. Again I fear that this is the best that can be hoped for.

If I had found these drinks unusual it was nothing compared to the monstrosity that calls itself Jeera Masala. This abomination masquerading as a beverage is nothing short of the work of Beelzebub himself. The demon drink is something like Doctor Pepper in that it is a fruity carbonated drink, slightly fruitier than Doctor Pepper, but has cumin (jeera) added. And of course salt. But cumin! It is foul beyond description and was the progenitor of the quote at the beginning.

My latest experience of the salty obsession took place this Saturday at a water park called Water Kingdom. There was a stall selling fresh fruit. A plate of watermelon, pineapple and papaya was ordered and to my disbelief and dismay a liberal, some would say excessive, helping of salt was added. I struggled through and when we returned at a later time I requested my plate without salt. Not only did this cause great amusement and raised eyebrows but the fruit walla actually got in wrong the first time round, so ingrained was the habit of adding salt!

It's not all bad of course. I had some dal last week which was lacking salt, and therefore taste, and the same happened with a soup not so long ago. Salt is a useful ingredient and binds flavours together. In the heat of Bombay one also needs to replenish the salts lost through sweat.

With all this salt though I can't help but wonder if people are taking salt replenishment to the extreme.

1 comment:

  1. would you like some salt with that Earl Grey, sir? :)