Tuesday, 7 December, 2021

With the Wind

Soul Food

Tulip Chowdhury

Soul Food
Tulip Chowdhury

Four of my colleagues talked about our soul food rice during the forty-minute break. We all cooked rice differently since we came from four corners of the globe, but the main ingredient was love. We were rice-eating people, and that somehow united us from the two sides of the shared table.

The colleagues sharing rice recipes went from Mexico toasted rice cooked with tomato, ginger, and onions. The Spanish came with rice with vegetables and meat/ seafood ( paella). Srilanka's contribution came about rice cooked with coconut milk. Bangladeshi myself mentioned the 'chal-dal khichuri.' We all had cultural and family touches with rice, but we agreed to eat the soul food at least once a week.

For immigrants, no matter where life has carried the people, food is a common thread that we miss. The craving for the particular food one ate back home cannot be forgotten. The taste buds desire the familiar spices and other ingredients one grew calls us from time to time. Our lunch break conversation was lively, for food carries the essence of culture and family traits. As a society, we follow specific food trends for the family or the individual; we make variations to delight one's taste buds. Rice makes the main meal courses for many Asian, Southeast Asian, Latin American, and more countries. Each country has unique blends of spices to make delicious dishes with rice. For most prominent cities in America, the cultural melting pot has grocery shops to cater to the spicy touches in our kitchens. For the people needing the Chinese/ Mexican spices and ingredients, moving to a new state or town would mean looking up available Chinese and Latino grocery stores. The immigrants can go overboard the people on Indian spices to buy our stuff and make monthly or weekly trips to Jackson Heights in New York. Once in Jackson Heights, there is the delight of filling on rosogolla, chom-chom from Premium sweet shop. And you cannot possibly be back home without hiccuping with delicious Shagor restaurant dishes. Shagor even sends cooked food to different states, well packed and fresh. And of course, when in NY, how can we come away without a 'misti-paan' ( the betel leaf touch)? And on the way home with packed Deshi-goodies, we can tune on: "pan khaya much lal korilam…."

Catching up on survival, when we relocate to far-off lands and leave familiar people and lifestyles behind, our food habits need to adjust to the new life. Our stomach is like the body's second brain; when it is happy, the mind works well. Suppose not the exact craving of the food we desire, something similar might do the trick. So people coming from many nations to meet on the standard search of better lives have a big part in food in the whole puzzle of moving to new lands. But people can come up with lots of creative ways: for instance, make spicy-puffed rice (substitute for Jhelum muri) with rice cereals or fry ready-to-cook tortillas into lunches.

The stories of our gourmet needs have no boundaries. Speak of Africa, Australia, Russia, or Iceland: an empty stomach, a craving for food; we unite with our hungry selves. There are volumes of food habits to be explored regarding meat-eating, fish, or being a vegetarian. While spices and ingredients may be on the store shelves, one can choose between meat, fish, or vegan items. Personally, though, I get off tracks in logic when we say being vegan is saving livestock or fish. Plants are living things; when we eat vegetables, we destroy lives to eat. The life cycle to the survival game is a lucky streak; we can be one of the wiser consumers by making balanced uses of our blessings. Our soul foods vary, but the cravings send murmurs across our beings, and if we are lucky, we spare no efforts to find the food that the inner being seeks. It is similar to breathing for the stomach. There is also the famous recognition that 'A hungry stomach has no ears.'

As my Italian-American friend says, "I must have some pizza and pasta during the weekend and go to sleep feeling loved by food." Writing on the human experience of comfort food, Ellie Krieger wrote, "Comfort food is the food that makes us feel good – satisfied, calm, cared for, and carefree. It's food that fills us up emotionally and physically. Finding comfort in food is a basic human experience."


Tulip Chowdhury writes from Massachusetts, USA