Of Sustenance, Sentiment, and Savory Challenges

Mango botanical, Chromolithographs by Etienne Denisse

Reminiscing about favorite foods from my Pakistan childhood and a culinary “treat” that swarmed into Lahore one Spring…

Ah…FOOD! A most satisfying excuse for gathering round the dining table for conversation, jokes, stories & laughter while savoring daily staples or unusual delicacies. The creative inspiration of cooking, baking, and holiday treats. All mix into the marvelous soup of my family’s past with influences that waft temptingly into our daily routines.

My folks cultivated, in my sister and myself, an appreciation for delicious foods and exotic cuisines. With Mom’s deft family management and Dad’s willingness to entertain a captive audience, we managed to avoid the combative family dinner scenario or the picky-eater syndrome.

Certain foods are indelibly melded in memory

With one or another of us…
~ My sister Victoria’s preference for black pepper & slightly burnt toast (not eaten together!) has somehow transformed into truly gourmet sensibilities as she’s a superb cook now!
~ My father loved ~ and loves ~ his desserts especially chocolate (requires a daily dose), ice cream, and puddings…butterscotch or chocolate.

Chocolate Walnut Penuche Vanilla milk fudge
Chocolate Walnut, Penuche (Brown Sugar), and Vanilla Fudge were Mom’s traditional Christmas gifts for Friends

~ My mother hates licorice, turnips & parsnips, and her birthday celebrations always include a white cake topped with coconut-sprinkled vanilla frosting. Every Christmas in Pakistan, she made pounds of delicious chocolate, vanilla, & penuche fudges along with yummy date-nut breads for gift-giving.

Well beloved (of course!) was the spicy, heat-laced, hearty Punjabi cuisine – chappatis, puris, samosas, golden pulao with peas whole cloves & cinnamon sticks, curries of all sorts, saag, raita, and more. Fried eggs over steamed rice with sliced fresh tomatoes and soy sauce was a Sunday dinner-in-Pakistan favorite…or cold cuts – beef tongue and salty hunter’s beef. (Sunday was our cook’s day off.)

Indian Water Buffalo
Indian Water Buffaloes produce delicious creamy pure white milk

Bowls of thick, water buffalo cream cooling in the refrigerator waited to be spooned over breakfast’s hot oatmeal. Fragrant mangoes, sunset-hued papayas & melons sparkling with a dash of salt, platters of washed grapes or chilled, slightly floral, lychees – most satisfying to peel and suck away from their dark shiny seeds – were some of our fruited delights.

Indian Papaya
basketful of ripe Lychees

Over the course of time, we were introduced to foods of all sorts, most of which could be categorized into conventional food groups….until we experienced the locust swarms, spring of 1962.

They descended over Lahore’s Forman Christian College campus like a swirling dust storm. My sister and I, my folks as well, dashed up to the second story verandah to have a locust’s eyeview of the green lawns, trees and hockey fields beyond the eucalyptus row and hedge.

photo of 1962 Locusts swarm in Lahore Pakistan
Locusts swarm over Forman Christian College campus hockey fields, Lahore Pakistan (1962)

Mom recalls “bugs being everywhere.” Victoria remembers “going up on the roof…and banging pots with spoons,” which the wise adults informed us would deter the ravenous locusts – a type of huge grasshopper – from devouring the sports fields and denuding trees. (From my mature vantage point as an enthused gardener, the veracity of this practice seems dubious.)

12 year old girl grimacing holding dead locust
Cynthe’s love of animals doesn’t extend to locusts (1962)

I do recall great excitement among the household adults, staff and my folks alike….a mix of anticipation and alarm….with little comprehension on my part for its basis. I also remember watching more experienced Pakistanis chasing them off the lawns and knocking quantities of locusts out of the sky and with big colorful cotton cloths. After 48 intervening years, none of us can recall if there was much damage done.

Our family of four sat in designated places for dinner as usual. Sunlight slanting through the tall windows behind my back as we waited for the meal to be served. At some point, our cook and bearer from #15 (our house on the FCC campus) proudly brought us a heaping plateful of deep fried locusts — a special delicacy for us to try and (as my Dad writes) “served voluntarily as a learning delight for their sahibs.”

As it turned out to somewhat mixed reviews! Not terribly fond of insects, I remember doubting the edibility of giant grasshoppers. Certainly never had realized they were a food source for people! The platter of toasty brown bugs  seasoned ‘just so,’ was presented to my mother according to the proper etiquette of ‘Ladies first.’

Plate with fried locusts
Fried locusts, considered a gastronomic delicacy, are NOT for me!

I jumped up unabashedly to peer over her shoulder at the exotic fare….torn between proper politeness and utter horror! Tentatively…plucked a roasted locust from the pile. And managed to take a bite. Crunchy. And tasty (much like a barbequed potato chip)! One bite was all I could chew…and swallow. Dining on bugs was NOT for me…no matter how delicious! Dad continues “We remember sitting at the dining room table and trying to chew down the fried locusts…Not much delight on our part, although we tried.” Victoria adds “…but I don’t remember ever eating them. I WOULD NEVER EAT THEM, NOT THEN, NOT NOW!!!!!!”

Both Victoria and I are avowed long-time vegetarians, our dietary choices due perhaps to such formative gastronomic ‘delights’?

Photo Credits:
Chocolate Walnut Fudge: www.TheSecretIngredient.biz
Penuche Fudge: June, http://thymeforfood.blogspot.com
Vanilla Fudge: Kate, www.AMerrierWorld.com
Water Buffalo: © 2004 Copyright Sandra I Colby
found on http://culinaryalchemist.blogspot.com
Papaya: www.topnews.in
Lychees: www.LuxuryThailandTravel.com
1962 Locust Swarm & Me Holding a Locust: Stanley E. Brush
Locusts, pre-cooking: by blogjam on Flickr

6 thoughts on “Of Sustenance, Sentiment, and Savory Challenges”

  1. I just bought a bagful of lychees at my co-op. I thought I would savor them throughout the week, but they were gone within two days!! The sign at the co-op is spelled “lichee.” I like the “y” better. I like printing “y’s” anyway.

  2. P.S. I love that water buffalo photo. ANd I don’t remember ever actually trying the locusts – yuck!

  3. Ooooh….lychees are in season! I’ll have to go over to our Asia market to see if we have them here. So delectable. You must get more! Yeah, I find the spelling more often done with a ‘y’ and I like the look of it, too.

  4. It was fun researching images for this post. Visited lots of sites and wrote for permission to use the images from individual bloggers. Learn some fascinating things about water buffalo milk. Did you know it’s THE traditional milk for making awesome mozzarella? In Italy it’s called Mozzarella di Bufala? Here are two of the interesting articles I found: Say Cheese!!!!! – Mozzarella Mania, part 1 and here’s another: Ontario farmers embrace water buffalo Water buffalo are being raised here and their porcelain-white milk transformed into cheese.

  5. When we first went to India I had ice cream made from buffalo milk. I couldn’t taste the difference.
    It began with the guy asking me if I wanted ice cream. I said, “what flavor?”
    He said, “ice cream.” I said, “o.k.” and got a fairly good vanilla ice cream.
    He told me it was made with buffalo milk.
    I don’t know if you remember, but it was in Amritsar. We were having pizza and listening to the Indian version of some Beatles music.

  6. Nope…no recollection of that ice cream moment. I was in a daze that trip…. We were brave (foolish) to have tried ice cream there. Was it in a restaurant? Street vendor ice cream / dairy products can be risky food choices for tourists.

    Do remember seeing the Golden Temple and being shocked at how filthy the water was! Remember taking off our shoes at the gate, walking the perimeter around the “lake,” peering at the central temple pavilion, etc.

    The buffalo taste difference is most obvious in the plain milk and the butter. It’s a grass fed, yummy flavor. When I went to Mexico in 1970, remember tasting the milk and butter exclaiming “This tastes just like milk and butter from Pakistan!” Hadn’t really realized before that what we feed our dairy animals makes SO much difference in the products we eat. Always buy organic dairy products now.

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