Do you love hot and spicy foods or do you avoid them for fear of what tomorrow might bring?
I knew there must have been a reason why I took the photo of the peppers on the Dagenham Heathway market, to illustrate my famous spicy food blog of course. The shop owner, of Indian origin, looked suspiciously as I produced my camera and began to snap away. He probably thought I was taking photos as proof for the British Food Inspection Agency in case there had been complaints about the quality of his produce. I reassured him that it was for a blog (I do not think the word existed in his Gujarati-english dictionary) and he realised that I was just a misguided tourist taking photos of the local colour – in the eastern part of London. Actually the local colour would have been more in the shape of pie and mash or fish and chips, but that is not a dish famous for its fire and burnt lips.
I was a deprived youngster in this way of things. The only spices my mother knew were salt and pepper and vinegar for the chips. Of course she magically produced mint for a sauce when lamb was served, but in those far away days spicy foods were unknown in the east end of London. The only foreign food would have been bagels and salt beef from the Jewish population of this part of London. Sometimes dad would bring bagels from the Sunday morning market in Brick Lane/Petticoat Lane, but that was the beginning and end of anything non-British on our dining table.
Eventually I left the bland food shores of England and arrived in Switzerland and …… lived with a Pakistani family for my first two years. The man of the house was Pakistani. Actually he was from North India, but in 1946 when India split into Pakistan and India things changed. The muslims living in North India all moved to Pakistan, and the Hindus living in east and West India, which became Pakistan, all moved to India. It was quite a large walkabout, but the food remained. The lady of the house was Swiss, but she cooked Indian style most of the time, so this was my big chance. It was not just a matter of spicing with chilli powder, but cooking the food in spice combinations. Sometimes a small red chilli might be hidden in the middle of a meat patty, that was a surprise. The first bite was OK, but when you did not know about the explosion in the middle, it could be a burning surprise.
I survived and even got to like the food and cook it. I like hot, spicy foods and my chili con carne is comparable with a volcano. It looks harmless but after the first spoonful the weak amongst us ask for a glass of water when it begins to erupt in the mouth. I was thinking of putting a fire extinguisher on the table for those that had water appearing in their eyes, their complexion turning the colour of a sunset – you know the one with the fiery sky in the background, but up to now we have all survived.
The only spice I am not really allowed to use is cumin, also known as jeera which is used in 100% of Indian food. I do not mind it, but there are some European taste buds which do not like it in my family, no names mentioned. I do sometimes smuggle it into my chilli con carne. I bought a special chilli mix and it definitely has traces of cumin, but by the time I have set everything on fire with lashings of chilli, it almost goes unnoticed and everyone is busy with the fire extinguisher.
I am still trying to work out the bit about what tomorrow might bring. My usage of hot spices is so thorough that it disinfects the stomach juices to such an extent that there is no danger. All germs, viruses and infections flee from the onslaught of the chilli purge. They have no chance of survival. They burn before causing trouble. I would worry more if I ate a plate of beans, now that is another problem, but will not be discussed here. To continue: I like spicy food and so my family also eats spicy food.
Of course, this is not a daily occurrence in my cooking; my food travels all over the world. We mainly eat Swiss, or Italian, perhaps sometimes Chinese and of course a little English remains with fish and chips.
Today we had cravattine pasta (pasta looking like little bow ties) and Kohlrabi (cabbage turnip?) in a béchamel sauce. I always make my béchamel sauce with cream and flavour it with aromat, Dijon mustard and black pepper – so no danger of setting the lunch on fire. We generally do not eat meat at lunch, only in the evening. I am not a vegetarian, but can enjoy a meal with just vegetables.