But my fellow countrymen, my kababayans, are apprehensive with spices. We typically prefer food that are strong in umami. That is why our own native dishes heavily use soy sauce or any sodium, vinegar, ketchup, sugar, and fat. My gosh, some people even use pork fat to stir fry vegetables! Eww*. I believe if we manage to use more Indian spices, we could tone down these unhealthful ingredients in our diet. But first, some myths have to be shattered, like the following below:
1. Spiced = Spicy
But what does KFC boast of? ELEVEN secret blends of herbs and spices. Yet we still enjoy their chicken. They barely have any heat at all. And most Indian food in the household use only FIVE main spices : Cumin, Coriander Powder, Turmeric, Chili Powder, and Garam Masala. Fine, our lovely GM is a combination of several spices. But you only use just half a teaspoon or even less. The chili powder is the one that provides real heat ("anghang") in the dish but you can even tone it down or eliminate it altogether.
Ok, there are true spicy dishes like Vindaloo that can hurt you. Nonetheless, Indian cuisine provides cooling condiments like Raita (Cucumber and Yogurt sauce) if the heat becomes unbearable.
2. Our culture just can't handle spices
But we are only talking about Manila culture. Our brothers and sisters in some other regions of this country love spicy foods like the Bicolanos and the Muslims in Mindanao. And how do you explain the popularity of Thai and Mexican cuisine in Manila? Yes, the spices have been toned down. And you can tone down Indian food as well. But why the unpopularity?
3. Spices stink and they cause body odor (B.O.)
As a child of the 80s (and coming of age in the 90s), I have heard older folks say things about Indians being stinky because they tend to eat onions whole. Yet when our family used to have a store in Star City (early 2000s), I had Bangladeshis and Pakistanis as co-tenants and they don't stink**. A few months ago, I also attended a party where most guests were Indian nationals. They don't stink at all either.
Spices do have a distinct odor and can be overpowering. Yet the smell is still far more different from the human B.O. But do you know other non-spice dishes that have an overpowering odor? Fermented fish paste (bagoong), fish sauce (patis). But do you get B.O. from that?
I admit I do encounter some Indians who do have, but some kababayans have as well. We eat differently from them, so how can you say it's in the food?
There are medical studies that suggest eating lots of spicy foods can generate B.O. I've Googled it too, but "health websites" look at other culprits too - red meat, alcohol, fish, asparagus, cauliflower, eating too little greens, etc. But I don't see people avoid eating wagyu and salmon, or see bars closing down en masse because people are afraid of getting B.O. And what about cigarettes? Tell me.
There are many factors of getting a B.O. but the key to prevent getting one is proper hygiene. I would bet that Indian food gets the bogeyman treatment because of how Indians are looked at as a people. And so we miss out a lot of good things the cuisine can offer to our kitchens and also to our health.
4. Spices are dangerous to your health
Ok, some people cannot eat spicy foods because they affect the colon. But going back to Number 1, spiced is not necessarily spicy. You can avoid paprika, chili powder, and jalapenos.
But the facts are, spices used in Indian cuisine offer lots of health benefits. Let us focus on Turmeric. Because this spice is actually grown here! Here is an excerpt from WebMD:
"...Turmeric is used for arthritis, heartburn (dyspepsia), stomach pain, diarrhea, intestinal gas, stomachbloating, loss of appetite, jaundice, liver problems andgallbladder disorders.
It is also used for headaches, bronchitis, colds, lung infections, fibromyalgia, leprosy, fever, menstrual problems, and cancer. Other uses include depression, Alzheimer’s disease, water retention, worms, and kidney problems.
Some people apply turmeric to the skin for pain, ringworm, bruising, leech bites, eyeinfections, inflammatory skin conditions, soreness inside of the mouth, and infected wounds.
In food and manufacturing, the essential oil of turmeric is used in perfumes, and its resin is used as a flavor and color component in foods."
Many of our ASEAN neighbors capitalize on both Chinese and Indian ingredients and cooking techniques in creating their unique blend of spices and flavorful dishes. In time, I hope that we shatter the myths we used to hold against Indian food, and which may also be connected with looking at Indians as a people. Give Indian spices a chance so we can further reinvent our Filipino Cuisine.
And in fact....
I will show you in later entries that Filipino cuisine does have Indian roots.
*Yes, French cuisine on some occasions would use bacon and lard to cook carrots, mushrooms or other vegetables but they are part of the ingredients in a meaty main dish like Boeuf (Beef) Bourguignon.
**And as an adult, I realized how amazing they got along with each other back then, especially how their countries are in each other's throats up to this day.