Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Desi pickle, foreign spice

- By Deepa Krishnan
The green mangoes I bought from the market are now safely pickled. This sort of pickle doesn't keep, so it has to be polished off quickly. We've been eating it everyday with rice and yoghurt.

Here's what went into the making of the pickle: Fenugreek, sesame, red chili powder, salt, groundnut oil, and last but not least, asafoetida or hing.

Have you smelt asafoetida? Aza - resin, foetida - stinking! When you fry it in oil or ghee though, it has a tangy sort of smell, like onion and garlic. It is a great substitute for onions, so it is used widely by the Jains in Mumbai, and by South Indian Hindu Brahmins who don't eat onions.

Hing used to come in little smelly pieces, that you soaked in water to soften and extract the essence. These days it comes in powdered form, in white plastic containers. A clever scientist at the Mysore Central Food Technology Research Institute figured out how to make hing powder. I'm sure millions of grateful Tamil maamis would give him daily thanks, if only they knew who he was.

Indians are the largest consumers of asafoetida in the world. But strangely, all of India's supply of asafoetida comes from Iran and Afghanistan. The damn thing doesn't grow here, I don't know why.

Laljee Godhoo & Company, they guys who make LG Hing, are a household name. They are an old trading company, established in 1894. In my fertile imagination, I have LG Senior doing a long arduous trek through cold mountain passes, to forge trade links with bearded strangers in Afghanistan. In reality, it was possibly an adventurous Pathan who came to Mumbai, bringing with him a smelly yet precious cargo of hing. I've always wondered why there were Pathans roaming around all over India. Now I know one good reason at least!

Today LG imports the raw stuff, and then compounds it in their factory in Andheri, Mumbai. Three generations of their family have been selling hing, and they have 70% of the Indian market. A nice but smelly business to be in, huh?

1 comment:

shruti said...

haha i love that pickle
being a tamilian myself i can relate to eating it with "tye chaadam" every summer day!
Your blog is so good.