You know how some things that we use, or eat, can often be used as a connotation to mean something else? ‘Honey’ is the sweetheart, ‘Sugar’ is the soul mate. Muffin is the little kid. ‘Choux’ or cabbage in French is connotes a sweetheart.
Remember this iconic song from Amy Castle?
Not all of them are used as a term of endearment. Some are used to express displeasure, and to an extent, are used as swear words. Sometimes food in one language could mean something entirely different in another.
My Baba tells a funny story about how asking for some extra salt almost got him evicted from his own in laws place. Salt in Bengali is ‘noon’ in colloquial and ‘laban’ in refined language. In Assamese, it’s ‘laban’.
Once, during a family marriage lunch, he asked for some extra salt. Indians, in general, are a loud bunch of people, and decibel not being an issue, it was OK for him to yell out his desire to have some extra salt to people serving lunch (those days wedding lunch/dinners meant you were seated while people – mostly friends and family pitching in to help – would be serving you). The loud humdrum suddenly became a hushed noise. My Baba, who had not ingrained a word of Assamese in his vocabulary despite having been married to a lady who was born and brought up there, was totally perplexed because instead of serving him ‘noon’, everyone was looking at him, cross eyed, their displeasure loud and evident. A bit intimidated, he looked around for help. He was physically removed from that space by my Uncle came to his rescue, explaining to everyone around that Baba wanted salt.
Turns out, ‘noon’ is a derogatory term for female privates in Assamese. Funny thing is, even my Ma does not know what it means till date. All she knew was that it was some bad word and never paused to know what it meant.
Another vegetable that is often used in Bengali as a derogatory term, implying ‘stupid’, is okra. This vegetable is called ‘dhanrosh’. When someone is ‘dhanrosh’, it means the person is really stupid, an idiot, more in the academic sense. I never figured why this poor vegetable has been delegated to mean something like that because honestly, it’s one of the best tasting vegetables out there. Okra is low sodium, saturated fat and cholesterol. It’s a source of protein, dietary fiber, and all the cool sounding vitamins – A, C, K, B6. Just not that, it also rocks in Calcium, magnesium, Potassium, Phosphorus, Calcium, Manganese. Oh, and this rockstar vegetable also provides Riboflavin, Niacin, Iron, Zinc, Copper……
I added some recently to liver fry that I make. It added texture and greens to an already rich and a healthy dish. I was running low on the liver, and didn’t want to add potatoes. I was also looking for texture, and contemplated adding spinach first, and then zeroed in on Okra.
Glad I did. Try it. It’s really a great combo.
- 1 lbs goat/lamb liver
- 2 dry red chilies
- 3 tbsp white vinegar
- 8-10 young okra
- 1 med onion ground to paste
- 1 small onion chopped
- 1 tbsp ginger garlic paste
- ½ cup tomato puree
- 1 tsp red chili powder
- 1 tsp turmeric powder
- 2-3 tbsp Mustard oil
- 1 tbsp ghee
- ½sp ground cinnamon and cardamom
- ½ tsp dry mint leaves ½ tsp fenugreek leaves (kasuri methi)
- 4-5 cloves 3-4 green cardamoms 1" cinnamon stick 8-10 black pepper corns 1 tsp cumin seeds 2 tsp coriander seeds ¼ tsp fennel seeds
- Soak dry red chili in vinegar for 10 minutes. Blend it.
- Using this red chili vinegar, make a paste with the roasted and ground masala
- Wipe the okra clean, slit in the middle, rub salt and keep it aside.
- Soak dry red chili in vinegar for 10 minutes. Blend it (alternatively pick the red chilies, and grind it using mortar and pestle.)
- Using this red chili vinegar, make a paste with the roasted and ground masala.
- Heat mustard oil fry chopped onions.
- Once it starts turning golden, add onion paste. Fry till it turns golden and the water evaporates.
- Put in ginger garlic paste, red chilli powder, turmeric powder, and the masala paste. Fry for 2-3 minutes.
- Add tomato puree. Fry it well till it blends and oil starts floating on top.
- In another pan, heat ghee.
- Add ground cinnamon and cardamom.
- Add the liver and stir them until they are coated with ghee.
- Add the okra gently, and turn them over to get them evenly coated.
- Empty the contents of the liver and the okra pan into the gravy pan.
- Add one cup of warm water, slowly from the sides.
- Once it starts bubbling, lower the flame and simmer for 10-15 minutes, covered. Stir once in a while. Add kasuri methi and dry mint powder and cook for a minute. Check for doneness of the liver and the okra (do not over cook, because the liver will become rock hard).
- Garnish with cilantro and serve with rice, or roti.
So tell me my dear reader, have you ever faced an embarrassing situation over language?
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