Food habit: Winter vegetables running riot in summers

It’s time to understand that climate change was not only about temperatures but also food culture.
A vegetable grower with his stock of pointed gourd.
A vegetable grower with his stock of pointed gourd.Represenatational image.

In the mid-1980s, when one was trying to find one’s bearing in the big bad city of Delhi, relatives settled in the capital would at times provide succour in form of a meal. Once an aunty mentioned that she missed ‘parwal’, the most popular summer vegetable in the eastern parts of the country. It goes by the name ‘potol’ in West Bengal and Bangladesh and ‘pointed gourd’ in English language.

One pounced onauntie’s craving for ‘parwal’ and managed to get 20-odd kgs from back home in Bihar. In those good old days parwal in the vegetable markets of Bihar came for something like 5 kgs for two bucks. Thus 20 kgs were transported in the train and delivered at her residence on Mandir Marg for the measly amount of rupees fifty including the ‘convenience fee’ to the attendant in the AC bogie of the train.

Our hostel in Delhi University till then did not have parwal on the menu. Summer months were bad as the cooks took recourse to local gourds like tori (sponge gourd), lauki (bottle gourd), arvi (taro) and a premium bhindi (okra). But the most dominant was tinda (apple gourd), which we migrants found completely unpalatable.

It was with much resistance that the cooking staff allowed entry of ‘parwal’ on the menu, when it started to arrive in the mandis (agriculture stock markets) of the national Capitalalong with the migrants from the East. Slowly ‘parwal’ has come to dominate the vegetable stalls in the city and tindas have as good as have vanished.

More than the ‘parwal’ insurrection,its revolution of another kind which caught one’s attention recently reading a newspaper report about the soaring vegetable prices. It mentioned about the ‘skyrocketing’ rates of tomato, carrot, cauliflower, capsicum, radish, cabbage and coriander. It made one realise that the new generation, to which the reporter must have also belonged, probably do not have any idea of seasonal summer vegetables.

The ‘skyrocketing’ vegetables he mentioned were also which in the good old days were categorised as winter vegetables. In fact till the first decade of this century it would have been difficult even to find these vegetables in the summer months. Now a days, while the gourds still hold their position, the sale of these ‘winter’ vegetables too flourish alongside.

A little research would tell you that all the cabbage in the mandis was going to the great Indian Chinese food market. Cabbage forms the main filling of the momos, sold at every street corner in the city, spring rolls and pairs with noodles in making chowmein.Cauliflower sustains Gobhi Manchurian (a dish exclusive to India and to be found in Manchuria), and radish and capsicum, which supplement cabbage in different Indian Chinese dishes.

Tomato sustains the butter chicken and paneer makhani sales with the coriander leaves as the dressing over one and all dishes being sold as North Indian speciality. But how much of these winter vegetables found an entry into the home kitchens during the summer month? Well those dependent on food cooked by ‘khanewalis’ (part-time cooking maids) for sure are getting a good exposure to the amalgamation of summer and winter veggies.

So a dry veg of okra cooked with potatoes and tomatoes with a liberal garnishing of coriander leaves may well make your taste-buds get lost about season. A mixed vegetable of cauliflower, cabbage and parwal could be more challenging for the old timers to eat. Thankfully lauki with gobhi or sponge gourd with cabbage was still to make an appearance. It’s time to understand that climate change was not only about temperatures but also food culture.

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