Elevated discourse

Food is important. Mark and inwardly digest. Chew your food. Taste it. Swallow what you have put into your mouth before reloading. Your mouth is busy, give it a chance. Indeed, pause from time to time, to think it through. Converse with your neighbours.

My mother taught me as much. Would that she had taught some others. Americans eat very fast. Our franchise establishments actually advertise their serving speed. (This is barbaric.) They also put signs, when their “outlets” are in downmarket locations, specifying the time you have to eat before your presence is interpreted as “loitering.” Woe to the diner not wearing a watch, for they have not the courtesy to place a clock by the sign, to let him adjust his swallowing to the time available.

My own advice would be, don’t dine where you’re not welcome.

Yet, even in Parkdale we have good restaurants. There are now seven Tibetan chop shops (yak stops?) along Queen Street. I think this qualifies us to be called “Little Tibet,” and get special street signs from the the municipal multicultural patronizing bureaucracy. Though when I accompanied an excessively white friend into one such establishment, he was filled with anxiety. “I sure hope the food isn’t authentic,” he commented.

It was, earlier today, starting with the salted butter tea. Or rather, it wasn’t. Everything tastes different, this close to sea level.

The same remark can be made for chillies, as can be made for wine. Except, chillies often grow well in the mountains. But this depends on the mountain face, in relation to the sun’s course; on the soils, and temperatures; on the rains in their seasons; on luck, and the art of the chilli farmer. Gentle reader will guess I am about to pump Tibetan Tiger Chillies.

Now, Tibet is no country to grow chillies, overall. Some katabasis is usually required. Go south, down the mountains, perhaps to Bengal; then east, to the hills behind Chittagong; or into the lower hills of Assam; and there, I solemnly believe, you will find the finest chillies in the world. The Naga Morich, grown there, have been attempted elsewhere, always with dispiriting results. The conditions can be reproduced artificially, and hybridizations can be tried to square the circle, as it were. Some gentleman in England topped the Scoville table, a few years ago, by triangulating from the Naga Morich, the Bhut Jolokia (or, “ghost pepper,” closely related), and the Trinidad Moruga (or, “butch scorpion,” with linguistic variants). But the hybrid was unstable and he lost the competition the next year.

I love very hot chillies, and those above 1,000,000 Scoville units are much appreciated. (The hottest Habaneros get only half way there.) But I also love chillies, in themselves, and this includes quite mild ones. You see, as chilli-haters refuse to be taught, there is more to them than capsaicin. Even the heat is produced by compounds: the scientists, always counting, don’t know where to start. The customer who wants only pain can hit 16,000,000 with the synthetic chemical in its wax form. … Go ahead. … I’ll watch.

A Canadian (white) may say, “How can you taste your food with all those chillies?” There is no polite answer to this. It’s a typically Canadian passive-aggressive stance: to ask the unanswerable question. You just have to shoot them. The truth is that chillies have flavours (note plural); that I am partial myself to the most fruity and aromatic varieties, which bring out other flavours, too, in a cooked dish. As a general rule, the hotter the better, but there are exceptions to general rules.

And one of these is the Tibetan Tiger Chilli. I mention it because for lunch today, I had an aloo khatsa. Well, okay, the restaurant is “Tibetan/Nepali,” and aloo is Hindi for potatoes. Shogo khatsa would be more correct: full Tibetan for “spicy potatoes.” The cook, bless her heart, must have incorporated dozens of these expensive chillies in the sauce. It was a mothering thing to do. To the Tibetan mind (and here I intend to stereotype), chillies mean “eat up.” They tend to subvert the body’s filling signals, enabling one to eat more. And if you live high on the Tibetan plateau, where nothing very much grows, and you don’t know where you’ll find your next meal — imagine yourself a bonze on pilgrimage — you eat what you can.

Potatoes are “nice” (see yesterday), but it is the distinctive flavour of these chillies that makes the dish. Other ingredients should, after a slight bow, get out of the way. I have not the vocabulary to describe it, but it rolls across the tongue like the flowers of an orchard in paradise. And then delivers a gentle caressing back-kick, like an affectionate mule. A professional wine taster might be able to imagine what fruits were in that orchard. I’ll mention guava, walnuts, and loganberries; but just to be pretentious.

Of course, Nature invented chillies to protect birdfeeders. Mammals such as squirrels hate them, as humans hate pepper-spray, but birds either can’t taste them (according to these “scientists,” who have simplistic ideas based on counting taste-buds), or actually like them (according to me). Note that “bird-peppers” were so named because avians gobble them by choice off the bushes.

I have taken to feeding my finches millet, enlivened with a modest sprinkle of crushed Ancho chilli. We both like it, and we both like it hot. In their case, also dry, and raw: they keep coming back for more. Whereas, a Tibetan would probably like his millet made into chang, and thus very wet. This is among their many delightful alcoholic beverages, which keep them warm in the mountains. And their food is salty, which improves the thirst.

Very catholic and monastic they are. (Scientists call them “Buddhists,” but this is misleading.) It is a great pity they weren’t numerous enough to fight off the Maoists, for they make very good soldiers, too. But I’m rambling, it has been a long day, and I almost missed my final Idlepost deadline.