Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Back to an old topic: Food

If you, my dear reader, would go back to the home page of my blog, you would see a list of labels right at the top. The labels are sized according to the number of times that label appears in my blog. As you can see, Cooking features among the top three most used labels! The reason is not too far to seek. Firstly, I have always been interested in cooking. Secondly, cooking for just myself has needed a lot of ingenuity, presence of mind, inventiveness, perseverance, patience and ... on some occasions, frustration. I have had countless occasions when I forgot about the food that was cooking on the stove in the kitchen, and it got burnt as I stayed inside my living area, surfing the net, or watching TV. 

Then, there have been instances when the food turned out to be finger-licking good, and I have gone out and shared it with some of my friends, either doctors, or nurses, or both. Between these two extremes, there have been the hundreds of times I have churned out average to good food, and consumed it with relish and an immense sense of satiation and satisfaction. 

The few problems I have encountered here are as follows:

a) Ingredients - While most of the Indian ingredients are available in the Kingdom, some, clearly, are not. Or, at least, not available in Al Muwayh or Taif. This includes khus-khus powder, badi ilaichi, badiyan, star anise, some other exotic spices, cereals like beaten wheat (daliya), dals like the south-Asian masoor dal and the rounded tuvar dal, kheer ingredients, etc.

b) Utensils - The Indian style pressure cooker which gives off steam with a whistling sound is a blessing for a person like me who is not a chef but a student of cooking and needs to monitor the cooking time and process through visual and auditory cues. I had to bring this from India, though I later discovered that it WAS available in Riyadh in Lulu Hypermarket. Other typical Indian kitchen tools include Kulfi moulds, Idli moulds, chakli and gathiya moulds, etc. These are not routinely found in the Kingdom. 

c) Variety - or the lack thereof: So many of the vegetables and fruit that we routinely buy, use, cook and consume are not readily available in Al Muwayh, though I can procure 95% of these from Taif/ For example, one cannot find guvar-ki-sing or drumsticks in Al Muwayh. Nor can one find the wide variety of fruit here. We do get fruit from Yemen and Egypt, but, to be frank, I always miss the Alphonso mangoes of India, and some of the other fruits that we buy in Mumbai. In the non-vegetarian section, I have to get stuff like trotters (paya), bheja, etc. from Taif or Jeddah. Here, however, you do get quails, duck and so on, in addition to chicken. You cannot find Indian fish in Al Muwayh. I usually get bangda or surmai from Taif. 

What you do get here is FROZEN FOOD. You can get guava juice, totapuri mango juice, frozen bhindi (okra), frozen  mixed vegetables, frozen green peas, frozen strawberries, frozen ... you get it, right? You can also find a lot of frozen ready to cook or ready to fry food here ... e.g. mutton samosas, chicken burger patty, chicken nuggets, breaded fish fillets, seekh kabab, shish tawook, etc. You just need to fry these and eat them. 

You can, for the most part, get Indian spices and goods in Taif at specialised Indian grocery stores, run by Malayalis who have been here down the generations. There are restaurants in Taif, but especially in larger cities like Riyadh and Jeddah, where you can have a hearty south-Indian meal and top it off with a Calcutta pan!

d) Quantities - or the excess thereof: Most Saudi families are large, and they need large quantities of food, so the problem is of finding smaller quantities of packaged and fresh food. The average cauliflower here is over a kg in size! The grocer will not cut it into the size you want. Either you take the 1 kg, or forget about the cauliflower! In a similar vein, the sizes of biscuit packs is large; dry fruits are only sold in 1/2 kg packs or larger. Most food grains are sold with a minimum weight of 1 kg, though some grocers do keep open buckets of grains and allow you to buy smaller quantities. 

Utensil sizes are as large as the food sizes! I find it difficult to buy vessels to cook small meals that I, as a single person, need to make. 

As of now, I cannot think of more problems. The interesting thing is that I look at each problem as an opportunity to find a workable solution. The challenge keeps me motivated to find a way out of the unending difficulties. But, as a result, my larder is full of provisions, and my large refrigerator (400 liters +) is always full.

Do let me know your view-points on this write-up. I welcome your keen eye, sharp mind and valuable comments. Thank you.  

1 comment:

Ravi Menon said...

First khus khus is not a powder but a seed. The reason it is banned is because it is a seed of the poppy plant which incidentally is what opium comes from :-). I suppose Al Muwayh must be a really small town! because Doha even in the days that it was primtive I could find most of the things you find missing. One piece of advice if you have a Indian restaurant run by a mallu ask him where he has his spices powdered. Armed with that location you may find that there is a huge treasure waiting to be discovered from your badi illaichi to star anise and badiyan :-)