A few years ago, I used to get all worked up about the faults in our cuisine culture and vow to adopt a different cuisine. Perceived faults I must say. I was sluggish, overweight and had met Obesity and it’s friends – Heartburn, Hypertension and Diabetes. I blamed it all on our food culture, especially whenever I returned from a trip abroad.
We decided to adopt a different food culture. Which one was it to be? Should it be Japanese, Chinese, Korean, French or Italian? These were cultures we felt had longer life spans and boasted very fit denizens. Grilled meats, steamed food, poached fish, red wine and preparations of fresh vegetables all seemed quite good from both the taste and health points of view. We were of course blind to the fact that most people in these countries ate early, balanced their meals, had fitness regimens built into their culture and so on.
The Oriental Route
Our first stop was Japan with an average life expectancy (ALE) of 83. Lots of fish, we reasoned, was healthy for us. The emphasis on fresh ingredients and steaming couldn’t hurt either. Off to the market we went and came back with mirin, tofu, rice vinegar, sushi rice, rolling mats, nori sheets and the like. We couldn’t wait for the next day when our adopted food culture would kick in. The sun rose and our first thought was about the Japanese breakfast that was to come. We hadn’t bargained for the fact however, that adopting a cuisine, means really changing the way we did things; not only in the kitchen but in other areas as well.
The typical Japanese breakfast includes rice, miso soup and different dishes to go with these two staples, like fish, omelettes and pickles and raw vegetables among other stuff. ‘No way’, said the wife. ‘Not cooking all of this at 6:30am’, she fumed. Since I wasn’t about to cook either, we went with the usual Parathas and Pickle with Tea. The daughter’s tiffin was packed with something similar. Over the next few days, we realised Sashimi grade fish just wasn’t available to retail customers, among other vital ingredients. We also ate through our entire month’s grocery spend in just a few days. Perhaps Japanese food wasn’t right for us. Chinese food we felt wasn’t exotic enough. How wrong we were! But that’s another story. Korean food promised to bring about the same aches and pains as Japanese food and was promptly skipped.
The French Riviera
Through with our oriental choices, we settled on French food. That’s what we would do, we would eat and drink as the French did. After all, they did have an ALE of 82 as compared to our 64 years. Off we went learning how to make crusty bread, finding sources of good wine and hunting down cheeses among other preliminary activities. Provence was our French region of choice and Provençal cuisine did seem to be healthy, nutritious and fairly easy to cook. Olive oil was preferred and fresh herbs seemed to be used in every dish. No problem, we thought and diligently sourced as many ingredients as we could. Our first breakfast was pleasantly different from the usual parathas or poha; slices of french bread with butter and preserves, accompanied by freshly brewed coffee.
We were hungry again by 12:00pm. Modern working lunches seemed to comprise a sandwich and a sweet, unlike traditional three course French lunches. Hungry by 4:00pm! Dinner at 7:30pm was a little more elaborate with a main course followed by cheese and fruits, accompanied by wine, loaves of crusty bread and condiments. Hungry again by 10:30pm! Not only did everyday French food seem to lack the substance to cater to our daily routines, drinkable wines and edible cheeses cost a pretty penny too! Baking our own breads posed issues of a different kind as strong bread flour wasn’t easily available and was wildly expensive when it was. Our relative lack of experience with baking bread ensured we always had a large supply of breadcrumbs. Fresh herbs were very expensive too and not easily found. Our affair with French cuisine thus came to an early end.
The Italian Affair
Italy, with an ALE of 82 posed the same problems as French cuisine – insufficient substance and expensive or unavailable ingredients. We also found we missed the spices, flavors and textures of Indian food and binged on it for a day or three every now and then.
Back to Roots
After trying out different ‘healthy’ cuisines for 2 months, we were more than ready to revert to good old Indian food. What was the solution then? The solution, we found lay in correcting our own habits rather than rejecting an entire food culture. Of course, this solution applied to our household and may not hold true for yours. We stopped stocking meats, cut out aerated drinks, steamed rather than deep fried, bought small quantities of fresh vegetables, ate small meals, reduced the amount of oil being used, switched to healthier snacks and so on. We also cooked dishes from different world cuisines at different times in the month to make things interesting and everything has worked out very well indeed since then!
Nothing wildly spectacular and all common sense as you’ll say and I’ll agree. It appears the best things in life are simple.The odd binge does happen, but I’ve lost 20 kilos since then and have been able to maintain my current weight for the past year or so, which isn’t bad at all. All cuisines are historically developed due to regional conditions and cultures. It is our lifestyle that is probably to blame for most health and food related issues we face today. We already knew this what with the hundreds of articles on the subject, but practical experiments proved it.
Externalising an issue is easier for most of us, than resolving the root cause. Introspection helps!
Sid wrote this post on his trials and tribulations with adopting different cuisines in April 2010 for ToI and we felt this article is as relevant today as it was yesterday. – Editorial