Intoxicating Spices

Ring of Fire 

Do you love hot and spicy foods or do you avoid them for fear of what tomorrow might bring?

It was a beautiful August afternoon in an international university campus. There were new students everywhere; some were searching for the class rooms or  the way to the library or to the campus store and a few students like me were lost and looking for the right direction to the dining hall. This was my first day in a new country. All different surprises are packed nicely and neatly for the international students and start to emerge one after another depending on the circumstances . After a busy morning in the class I decided to take a break and eat lunch. I took a small walk from my class to the Cafeteria through a small bridge on a beautiful lake. I entered  the cafeteria and looked around to see the long hall with big glass windows, beautiful chandeliers, rows and rows of  dining tables with white table clothes and pretty flowers in vases. And in one corner there was a variety of food with dinner plates on the side. The line to the food area was pretty long. I walked closer and glanced at all the food. I tried to read the names but they did not make any sense so I stood closer for some kind of aroma, but that did not happen. So I took little of everything on my white plate and sat down to eat. My last lunch was on the flight to the city.

I tried a little of everything but could not eat because there was no taste. The food was bland, there was no vibrant color, no mystical fragrant or mouth-watering taste of spices or herbs.  I ate one banana and left. It continued for a few months. I lost a few pounds and got into more healthy habit of munching on fruits. Others praised me for my figure and some even asked me about the secret of my food intake. I enjoyed the compliments but I decided to purchase a small stove to cook my own food as hot and spicy inside the dorm. It was 1988 in Iowa, where I tried but did not find any Indian spices. Some days, I used to sit in the dorm room and think about the magical exotic aromas of spicy foods of my house in India. My grand mother used to say that “Spices are like a beautiful classical music with different notes and it is important to know the right notes to play”.

One day out of curiosity I pulled out and read a book on spices from the library. Spices have been important to us since the beginning of history. Historically culinary spices were used in Ancient Egypt in 1555 BC as food preservative and for health benefits. In 668 BC the spices were used in Mesopotamia and Euphrates valley and in India as early as the 8th century BC.Spices have antimicrobial properties which may explain their importance in warmer climates. In India spices are legendary for their delightful flavors, food preserving powers and medicinal property. Now in my kitchen I have stacked some seeds from spice family like Coriander, Cumin, sesame, ajwain, aniseed, fennel, fenugreek, mustard, pungent turmeric, fragrant nutmeg and bold ginger. In my back yard I have planted Mint, Basil,  Curry plant, Rosemary, Sage and few hot pepper plants to entice my taste buds. Spices are always enjoyable and best in a milder form.

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