Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Understanding Local Ingredients at Post
When we first arrived at post and went to the local markets, we quickly realized that although English is spoken widely in Kolkata, some items were called by their British names (lady fingers instead of okra); and there were things we had never had before, like the fruit called chickoo.
I went to a local bookshop and bought some children's books that illustrated fruits and vegetables so that we could understand the common names and use the pictures to point at if needed. They serve double duty as a book for our two year old, and hopefully they will be an interesting memento when she grows up and can't remember that she actually used to love lady fingers (sounds so much more appetizing than okra).
An even better resource is a series of books recommended to me by our very experienced and knowledgeable management officer, Linda Bladhom's guides to ethnic markets. Even though they are written to navigate ethic stores in the US, they are a great introduction to local foods. The series includes:
*The Indian Grocery Store Demystified
*The Asian Grocery Store Demystified
*Latin & Caribbean Grocery Stores Demystified
The The Indian Grocery Store Demystifiedhas sections on the different types of rice, dals, flours, spices, vegetables, fruits, snacks, sweets, teas and more. I found it interesting that parboiled rice is not the same as American minute rice. Parboiled rice is boiled and then steamed before it is hulled. The nutrients from the hull is absorbed by the rice kernel before it is removed, so it is a more nutritious rice.
You also see a lot of spice mixes in stores here. The book explains some of these mixes, for example, Kadhai Masala. "A kadhai is an Indian wok and this is a chunky spice blend for chicken or vegetable dishes...contains crushed coriander, fennel, mustard, fenugreek seeds, ground red chilies, cumin, black pepper, ginger, dry mango, cassia bark, and star anise." Whew! Now I am hungry again.