Living halfway across the world, far away from home and everything that feels like it, makes a person truly understand and appreciate their roots. It is then that one comes to realise no matter how many steps you take away from your native culture, it is the very thing that defines you in a place full of diversity. All the things you overlooked and never gave a second glance too, suddenly have a lot more importance and meaning in your life. Simple things like familiar food in the supermarket makes you ecstatic and nostalgic, two emotions you never though would show themselves at the sight of something so trivial.
Food has always played an important part in my life. It has great meaning to me, irrespective of which culture or cuisine it belongs to. Back home, I was always excited to try new dishes from different parts of the world and was always looking for something I considered to be a little on the fancier end of the food spectrum. Even though that still hasn’t changed, but the one thing that has, is my appreciation for the food from my country. India is a multicultural nation and its cuisine is as diverse as its people. Simple ingredients handled with care and cooked with love make all the difference in the food. The one ingredient whose importance I never quite acknowledged was turmeric or Haldi as it is locally called.
To me, this golden powder was just another spice that was added to every other dish and occasionally mixed in with warm milk and ordered to be gulped down at once when someone in the house was sick. Spices like cinnamon and star anise were thought to be more flavourful, edgy and in some ways superior to the good ol’ turmeric powder. But things have taken quite a turn and it is only now that I have come to understand the importance of this simple spice and the difference it can make in when added to a meal.
Apart from having numerous antiseptic and anti-bacterial properties, the one thing that turmeric adds to a dish is warmth. Just a small pinch into a rich curry or a simple lemon rice is enough to brighten the dish as though it were a warm hug. Its musky flavour when paired with a spicy element brings about a balance that makes every bite feel like a mouthful. While I always thought that turmeric was added in our food because of the health benefits it entails, or maybe to add some colour to a dull dish, both these may not be the primary reasons for the importance of adding this spice.
This simple and underrated spice gives a dish a lot more character and body by simply enhancing the other flavours it already has. Just a pinch of turmeric can change a meal completely, adding more complexity and subtlety at the same time. It is the one element, as I now understand, completes Indian cooking in more ways than just one and I have finally learned to appreciate it from more than 7,000 miles away.
That’s what distance does to your relationship with food. Things that that you never in your wildest imagination thought fit to eat or gave enough credit to, start slowly climbing up the ladder on your list of favourites. You hold on to the familiarity of the flavours and ingredients that you have grown up eating maybe because that in some ways is your sense of self and identity in a new place. When you are removed from your habitual environment, you often get a different perspective on your native food and learn to enjoy all it’s aspects, no matter how small or different. But the irony of the situation is that by the time we actually learn to love all the food that we once despised, we’re a little too far to reach it.