Spices, aromas and the sensation of cool, pudding-like coconut flesh on my tongue come to mind thanks to Sezin Koehler posting a recipe for proper Sri Lankan curry on her blog. With each step of the recipe's instructions I was nodding my head, yes, yes, to all those tidbits of knowledge you need to make a dish succeed.
Some 20 years ago I spent just one month in India, yet the memories are vivid today. Traveling from Bombay via Goa to Bangalore, I fell in love with that part of the country. I was mesmerized by the unfamiliar landscape —nothing I recognized from TV or movies; the way people walked —slower and more sensual than Western Europeans, and how most everyone wiggled their heads in response to a question, as if not wanting to disappoint with a straightforward no.
After some practice I learned to push a dimple in the smallest piece of nan, so I as well could scope up sauce and rice, or pick a piece of chicken from khali trays without having sauce run the length of my arm into my armpit. I enjoyed the heat of the climate and of the seasoning of dishes and chai.
Spicier is fine, I used to say.
One fateful day in Goa, I went on an outing with Nelson, the son of my host and some of his friends. We drove for a long time along the coast. By the time we arrived at what wasn't much more than a shack on the beach, I was shocked to learn that the only available item on the menu was grilled shrimp. Since I suffered from low blood sugar and we were hours away from a store or other restaurant, I had to eat the non kosher food. Not long after, the skin on my face, arms, rump and legs rose, and started itching like crazy.
"God punishes immediately," I imagined my long dead father saying.
|Braganza Mansion in Chandor, Goa|
"Our women would be too sensitive to the medication I'd like to give you."
That he meant I had to have experienced the buzz of alcohol before, became clear soon after we arrived at his girlfriend's parents' house, where I took the pills he fetched at a pharmacy.
High as a kite, incapable to sit up, I lay on a narrow bed, confined to a darkened bedroom, so different from the poster bed in the lofty room at my host's mansion where I was allowed to rest during siestas. Between hallucinations I worried, then again was relieved that my mother did not know I lay dying in a small Portuguese-Catholic town in India.
Needless to say I survived the allergic reaction as well as the remedy. However, from that time on spicy food has continued to give me hives. A hint of black pepper and the top of my cheekbones itch, cayenne does the same to my calves, paprika to my arm pits, and worse, eating a fresh tomato, raw or cooked makes my face resemble one. Eating strawberries turns my eyelids red and itchy. There's much more, I'll spare you the rest.
If I say curry, who do you think of?
This work by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License