Monday, November 17, 2014

Stink Like Curry

True ignorance is something I'm fortunate enough to rarely be exposed to. Still, every once in a while I'm privy to hearing things I had rather not hear and I'm not sure how to address these issues. Today I'm writing about such an incident.

I was sitting at a local cafe that had served chicken curry for lunch. This was not an Indian restaurant but rather just a healthy-eating cafe that varied their menu. At a nearby table one girl had apparently ordered the chicken curry and I overheard her making comments about how she didn't want to "stink like curry."

Wtf.

As an avid over-thinker my first reaction was to question why she had eaten the chicken curry if she thought that curry stank so much. Then I also thought that if she ate it, why would she think her clothes were going to smell like curry....had she actually bathed in it rather than putting the food in her mouth. In further thinking I suppose she could reason that her sweat would begin to reek of curry smell. I actually was perplexed at this point wondering how she could smell like curry when she hadn't actually touched it (because Americans don't eat with their hands).

About an hour or so later I encountered the same woman and she was asking a man to smell her. I couldn't help but eavesdrop at this point. She told him that ever since eating the chicken curry she had continued to smell curry and was worried that she smelled like curry. He told her he couldn't smell anything but her perfume. She then had someone else smell her for confirmation.

Being married to an Indian, I KNOW that Indian people smell like the food they eat because they either cooked it, or they ate it with their hands. This isn't all the time either because Indians also eat with forks and spoons or other eating utensils. This is true of every single cook in the world. They will smell like the food they cooked quite often. At least until they scrub it off at the end of the day.

I actually find it funny that this woman felt tortured for at least an hour over whether or not she smelled like curry. Serves her right for what I feel like was a racial undertone to her line of thinking.

Anyway, I thought since curry was the subject of this post, you all might like a little educational cooking lesson on curry. I love this Alton Brown cooking episode. He's one of my favorite chefs.

Alton Brown: The Curious Case of Curry

I also thought this article was quite interesting as it discusses finding curry ingredients in the teeth of 4000 year old skeletons.

BBC Food - Curry: Where did it come from?

22 comments:

  1. I've wondered what people mean when they talk about the 'curry smell'.
    Just about every curry starts with frying onions & I've definitely smelled 'fried onions' on Indian ladies that have spent time in the kitchen. Understandably some of the oil flies everywhere & you can especially smell it in hair & on clothing. Maybe that's the 'curry smell'?
    Anyhow, the only other 'stink' I've smelled on SOME Indians is 'dirty hair' & 'old sweat/BO'.
    The warmer the climate the more pungent the 'stink' it would seem.
    I have noticed it is mostly Indian males under the age of 35 yrs that really 'stink' & it is usually due to poor hygiene.
    We have 7 young Indian men & 2 of my Indian nephews employed as salespersons in our business. We had to have a 'hygiene lecture' because they were all a bit 'stinky'.
    Most of these young men were not bathing daily, nor brushing their teeth, nor changing their socks, nor wearing deodorant/antiperspirant, & some were wearing enough cologne to asphyxiate someone. (Our shops are all in 5 star hotels so we can't be having stinky employees.)
    2 of them had such horrid foot odor you'd swear there was a month old corpse in the room when they took off their shoes. IT WAS BAD. Like I had to burn 2 pairs of my nephew's shoes.
    So now we have a rule - If an employee 'stinks' they get sent home to get washed, changed or whatever to get 'unstinked'.
    If they get sent home for 'stinking' more than 3 times they get fired.

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    1. There is a so called curry plant. It's not the same thing but most don't realize that. It's nothing like the Indian curry and is considered inferior in the culinary world to the real spice mixture. There are also generic curry mixes that people mistake for the original curry you commented about. Most BO comes from the foods we eat and the bacteria that subsequently live and poop on our skin (to be simple and blunt lol). Processed foods make you smell worse than fresh veggies, etc. It's been proven that the smell of garlic can seep through your poors however - you don't see anyone going around saying Italians stink right! So this supposed curry stink I think is a figment of people's imagination or possibly misplaced blame.

      Personally I love the smell of cooked onions and even though my husband cooks Indian, no one has ever told him he smelled bad from it. I completely agree with your stink strategy. Most BO can be easily eliminated with proper hygiene practices and no one needs a gallon of cologne. :)

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    2. I think for Indians, the smell of onions, ghee and ginger actually indicate a celebration of food. Aromatic, flavorful food. Perhaps we do not mind it. But for a western person who has has never encountered strong food smells, the smell must be offensive. Secondly, most Indian dishes have a brownish, yellowish complexion, which perhaps put off many people. What is moderately spicy for us, becomes extremely spicy for a western person. I have heard that most Indian restaurants abroad serve food which is toned downed for the local population and cease to remain the same thing. I don't think anybody has heard of chicken tikka masala outside England. Indian food also invariably becomes north Indian food because of the proliferation of Punjabis hoteliers.

      There are only two curries I know off. One is the curry leaves and the second is a dish called "kadhi" popular among Punjabis made with chick pea flour and curd. I am sure you have eaten it. Apart from these two, there is nothing called curry in Indian vocabulary. Now, even desi Indians are using this term. Perhaps it is fashionable now.

      Apple

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    3. You can get chicken tikka masala all over Delhi, in Rajasthan and in New York City.

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  2. Apart from the smell of turmeric, onion and ginger which is liberally used in indian food, some pointed out that Indians have sweat glands that produce this smell. Some do have hygiene problems or even those who bath daily or brush their may not be using a deodorant or mouth wash. These were introduce very recently. Perfumes too were basic knowledge my day. The only cosmetic known was telecom powder to make one more fair. Indians do take bath but do work enough to smell right. Perhaps for us taking a bath is enough.

    One strange thing I heard from a American women one of the sites who was married to an Indian that Indians do not know how to take bath because they do not use the bath cloth to scrub in Bath tub. With Indians I suppose like everything else we have been taking bath the wrong way. We are doomed.

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    1. From my experience most Indians do not smell bad. Turmeric has an earthy smell which I'm sure most people wouldn't pay for but it doesn't stink. Nor does onion and ginger IMO. The smell doesn't come from the natural foods that people eat, it comes from the pesticides or chemicals used to process foods. So when your mom told you all your life to only eat home cooked food, she didn't realize it but she was giving you sound health and hygiene advice. I tell my non-Indian friends this and I've had a few test my theory. They stopped eating processed foods for a week and realized they no longer needed deodorant. Of course, some people have more bacteria in their bodies that causes unsavory smells but that ideal should not be placed on an entire population. In my 16 months of living in India I only remember twice smelling an Indian who was sweaty and didn't practice good hygiene. That's pretty impressive considering I went out into the crowd almost every single day.

      LOL on the bath comment. That woman clearly was narrow minded. Not all Americans use a bath cloth either. There are many options here. Still, if you don't use those the Indian bucket bath is quite an effective means of cleaning yourself in many ways. She must not have thought that far into it and I can't help but wonder why she married an Indian if she thought he couldn't even bathe himself properly. That seems like a condescending view.

      The Indian was is very different from most other countries. It's like an assault and an adventure for our senses every day. Some days it drives non-Indians crazy and other days we think it's the greatest thing ever. My views are ever changing about India but currently they stand at thinking that India's lack of westernization is the smartest thing about India. Indians retain a lot of knowledge that western countries have lost.

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    2. One problem, certainly not limited to Indians, is people who get very sweaty, change clothes/shower but do NOT wash off their sweaty clothes immediately. The odor of stale sweat will build up over time. If you clothes are sweaty, wash/rinse them out as soon as you get home. I was once at an Indian teacher's house in Rajasthan. She had just come home, it was very hot, she was drenched with sweat. She immediately showered and changed, but she took her sweaty salwar kameez and shoved it into her wardrobe! I could only think how it was going to make the rest of her things smell, as well as the fact that the next time she put it on-even if she washed it-there would be a lingering odor. I lived next to an old man in Brooklyn who was beginning to suffer from dementia, and he did the same thing. After some time, I could smell the odor of unwashed clothes coming out of his apartment from the front door.

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  3. I believe that ninety percent of the body odour comes from armpits. This ofcourse my throty. Many indian men for some inexplicable reason do not wash them. If u wash your armpits regularly body of our can be controlled. With some indian men I feel it is cultural or some kind of male ritual. With dirty armpits u are gonna stink deodorant or not. As a man I have noticed it but I may be wrong. It's a man's perspective.

    Second problem is excessive body hair. Certain Indian men have hair like bear. It goes all the way from face to cheat. It is very thick. With Indians weather the swear stays of a long time. These people perhaps need deodorants more. In india you go out let white and return looking like a coal. Smelling good is perhaps that much more difficult.

    Certain Indian men have issues with hygiene which I despise. This understanding is perhaps a little muddled. We perhaps believe that bathing is enough but do not try to prolong the effect.

    Apple

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    1. These are very good points. I agree with the armpit theory. It's the easiest place to overlook and doesn't get enough fresh air. The body hair is also a culprit if one doesn't shower regularly or wash well. Considering I've taken cold bucket baths in the winter in India, I'm going to just let that one go because I too got out of there as soon as I could. Now in the summer, one has no excuse not to bathe since it's by far one of the best experiences in the Indian heat. You should want to stay longer in the cold bath.

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  4. Why cold bucket baths?? In India we heat water indian style on gas. Fill a big vessel with water, put in on gas, and voila you get hot water for alteast two people. Put it in bucket, mix cold water as per your requirement. Those who do not have geysers, use immersion rods. Immersion rods are dangerous when you have little children but very convenient. Nowadays we even have geysers which run on gas. BTW cold bucket baths in Indian winters is a spiritual experience close to salvation, I guess LOL.

    Apple

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    1. Lol. It's because I'm a stubborn white woman (I mean that). I didn't want all that fuss over the gas and I figured if my family could do it, so could I. I Just have it in my mind that I won't let anyone work that hard for my selfish desires so I took it. I actually found the cold bucket baths to be enjoyable. I'm not sure how to explain it but it was so nice to be in there alone and just to be able to control the situation. We did later on get a gas geyser because after the first winter I decided to stop being so stubborn. I think you're right about that close to salvation thing in winter. The only thing I had making it more tolerable for me is that I'm used to much colder temps. Today here it was -8C when I left my house for work and the high was 0C. It's not even winter yet!!!

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    2. Yes, when the cold water falls on your head, you believe that the biblical apocalypse is nearby. Another close to salvation movement is using the Indian toilet at the height of winter and summers. The water stored in the overhead tank is either boiling hot or freezing cold. India presents innumerable spiritual opportunities. I mean where can you get such salvation doing mundane things of daily life LOL.

      As I was thinking about Apocalypse, my mind turned towards Matsya Avatar the first incarnation of Lord Vishnu. You must have heard about the story of Noah's Ark. Exactly the same story is told in Vishnu Puran. The same talk about great flood, pairs of animals, boat and one man saving the earth. This time Lord Vishnu arrives as a great Fish and guides the boat out of danger. This is the first incarnation of Vishnu, Matsya Avatar (Fish Incarnation). There are atleast twenty great flood stories all over the world. It means that the great flood was a reality. It seems that the great civilizations have borrowed from each other.

      http://hindumythologyforgennext.blogspot.in/2011/11/matsya-avatar.html

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VqUcfYFELBM

      Apple

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  5. That lady has no taste at all! I for one, stink like curry. My house stinks like curry. AND I FRIGGIN LOVE IT!!!! I get to eat the most flavourful food every day, and my house smells like these amazing exotic spices that have so many health benefits. So gladly, I stink like curry and enjoy every minute of it :)

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    1. :D Love it. I cook a wide variety of food so there's no telling what I smell like. No one seems to avoid me though so I must be okay. I just couldn't believe how much it bothered her to think she might smell like Indian food.

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    2. I a little curious, you guys have electric chimney to suck up all the fumes?? many Indian homes have electric chimneys these days, thought they are expensive to maintain. This question came to my mind because somebody once mentioned electric chimney to Sharrel Cook and she did not know what it was. It is sad that she has stopped blogging. I thought perhaps electric chimneys are not needed in western kitchens.

      I guess and it is just my guess, that heavy duty frying does not take place in western kitchens, the frying and grilling is done outside on barbecue. I have seen in american serials squeakily clean kitchens near drawing rooms. Now, even Indian serials are following this trend. Hard to imagine open air Indian kitchens near drawing rooms with all the frying going on. Indians kitchens are a mess with all the oil and masalas with sticky walls

      Apple

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    3. We have the electric chimneys, we just call them exhaust fans. We do some frying in the kitchen here but our kitchen hygiene standards are much different. We scrub every single corner, edge, etc. regularly because we're constantly bombarded with info about deadly bacteria in kitchens lol. It's kind of sad in a way but I guess it has it's good points. The Indian kitchens I have seen are definitely a mess and now that my husband does a lot of cooking here, so is mine. All of my kitchen towels are turmeric yellow now LOL. I've learned my lesson though. I now have black towels.

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    4. There are plenty of clean kitchens and houses in india but a lot of effort goes into it considering how hot, humid and polluted india is. On top of it indian cooking is so laborious. Give me a slight messy middle class indian house any day.

      When I saw western houses certain things came toy mind. What about security? The houses have no boundary or gates. What do they do with such big houses ?? What if somebody spilled something on the carpet or a baby does its "business" on the
      Floor. Everything was so shiny as if nobody lives in the house. Everything was perfect. Only the super rich in india can afford such big houses. The houses just on the road anybody could walk in.

      It is said that in Lord ram's Kingdom people did not lock their doors because there were no thefts. Everyone was noble and happy. I thought that American had managed to establish that mythical Kingdom.

      However there is one place india where there are no doors because it is believed that he who steals incurs the earth of shani Dev whose shrine is located there. The place is called shani signapur in the state of Maharastra india.

      Apple

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    5. Our security is much different here. In India the family home was rarely empty (Once in 16 months) as a security measure. Here we lock the doors and leave freely without much concern. We have alarm systems so that if anything happens, an alarm is sounded. If something is spilled on the carpet, we have cleaners for that and many carpets are stain resistant so the mess is easily cleaned up. Also, we put our babies in diapers all the time rather than doing the elimination communication most Indians use. Then we clean the babies bottom when the do their business and dispose of the waste.

      It sounds strange but we have systems in place to minimize our cleaning/daily tasks and make things more efficient and thus complicated. We also have a generalized fear of breaking the law that limits things like theft. It happens, but not all the time.

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    6. Yes, systems in place. We have still not developed systems, because our families, though nuclear is still following the joint family/village system of house keeping and child rearing which needs more man power and time.

      BTW, I saw the Fergussen riots. The news reports here say that the boy stole a pack of cigar from a shop which started it all. There is no evidence of him carrying any weapon. Why did the police officer shot him, that too eight times?? How did he go scot free?? It is also said that it is very difficult to get a case registered when a black person is a victim. Twenty years ago, the Rodney King case sparked such riots. We were shocked. We thought oh, these things happen in America also??

      I could draw parallels between the two societies. We have riots every now and then. More diversity, more problems. It is sad that after much developments, we have not been able to get rid of our biases. Most of these riots whether in India or America are started by anti social elements who come from outside the neighborhood and then the blame falls on the residents. The common man even in India is less likely to damage public property. Nobody wants to damage their own neighborhood from where they earn their incomes. Thank god, you guys don't have to deal with religion, caste and languages. In India we have enough spice to cook up the riot cuisine.

      Apple

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    7. I haven't followed the Ferguson story to be honest. I don't trust our media, it's 99% crap and they twist stories to elicit emotions to make more money. From what I have heard the boy was acting against the law, the officer took too much action against him and now after reviewing actual evidence a jury has decided that the officer is not going to be indicted. That's all I know. I think the reactions of the crowds were no better than the crime itself. It's not that hard to get a case registered if the victim is black like it used to be. America did have a massive problem with racism long ago but it has gotten substantially better over the last 45 years. Things are not as unequal as the news reports and marketable opinions would have you believe. Americans are constantly lied to and misled by those in positions of authority and the media outlets - including those who create our children's textbooks. It's a sickening and long story. In this way, America is just like India. No matter how much we progress and diversify, you can't get rid of the bias. From what I see more progress has led to more bias.

      What's interesting is that we are now starting to deal with religion. As a historically Christian country, we are quickly learning just how wrong many early Christian doctrines were. They created the monsters we're dealing with now. There are multiple other religions quickly advancing here now as well and those are sure to cause even more problems as Christian extremists groups are growing and churches everywhere here preach against those religions. Christianity here is like Hinduism in India. It's the majority while the other religions are ever growing minorities seeking to find their place. Here where I live we have almost as many Christian churches as Amritsar had Hindu temples.

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  6. You write very nicely, Talking about the Indian food which was very awesome and about their "Smell" which make my mouth watering, I can feel what is cooking, only with the smell. Love to Being an Indian and i love Indian Food too.

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