Hyderabad: No Andhra cuisine is complete without the spicy mirchi and the sour
tomato. And no auspicious ritual is complete without the "lucky" pumpkin. Of course, Andhraites are favourites of potato, tea and coffee too.
But none of these vegetables or beverages was known to our great grandfathers. The tomato became a regular in Andhra cookery including the famous tomato pacchadi
(pickle) only 40 years ago, two decades after the vegetable was introduced to India.
The history of red hot chilli is also too short in the Indian sub-continent. South Americans and Europeans savoured the spicy chilli and "burnt" their palate for centuries before they brought the vegetable to India. Wonder, what Andhraites, till early part of last century, used to spice up their food with in the absence of
chillis! They used black and white pepper for the "punch".
And if you thank the Portuguese, the British and the French for these
"exotic" vegetables, which have over the decades became native changing the agricultural, horticultural and economic scenario in India, you have to blame them too for the pests in the kitchen, the weed nuisance in our water bodies and the allergic shrubs and herbs on the roadside.
"The German cockroach, a major kitchen pest, is also introduced by the Europeans, though not deliberately. The brown or Norway rat, another health menace, is also their contribution. These pests entered India in the luggage the Europeans brought to India in ships during the foreign rule. Of course, the giant African snail
too," said senior zoologist Dr C Srinivasulu from Osmania University.
Water hyacinth (Eichhornia) with its beautiful flowers is a cunning weed that has been robbing the Indian government of hundreds of crores of Rupees every year, particularly during the rainy season. The plant blocks water flows in rivers, streams, drains and tanks causing floods. A British noble woman brought water
hyacinth for decoration of a pond in her bungalow little knowing that it will turn a major nuisance a few decades later.
"Other weeds that came along with the Europeans, whether accidentally or deliberately, are Parthenium (carrot weed or gajar ghas), Prosopis (vilayati kikar), Lantana camara and Eupatorium. Some of them are ornamental too while others are useful for firewood," said botanist Ammanna Sastry.
On the bright side of the European contribution are pineapple, apple, cabbage, pomegranates and potatoes. Cabbages are native to southern Europe while pineapples originally grew in South America. Pomegranates are from Iran and potatoes came to India via Europe from South America. Tomatoes also came from South America.
Interestingly pumpkin, a native to central America, has found its way
into the Indian rituals. It is regarded as the best source of removing "dristi" (evil sight or spirits) and is also considered auspicious during domestic
Apple was brought to India by Britishers during 1865. The other varieties of apples like "delicious" were introduced only during 1917. Sweet cherry became a regular in Indian desserts a few years before Independence. Tobacco was introduced by the Portuguese whereas coffee came from Ethiopia. The Britishers discovered that tea was growing in the wild in the hills in Assam long before Indian knew that tea
can be brewed.
Papaya and cashew nut were also introduced by the Portuguese. Among animals that came along with the Europeans were rabbit, stout tailed parrot, cockatoo parrot and love birds. Javan sparrow, brought as a pet, escaped from Britishers' houses and formed wild colonies. The giant African snail, a major pest, was also Europe's contribution.
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