Simply for taste only

Simply for taste only

If there is one common factor that binds all communities in multicultural India, it is the ubiquitous chilli. This is fine if one’s stomach has become inured to the hot little beast, ingesting it from childhood, but it poses a definite threat to one’s comfort and everyday existence if one is not able to withstand its powerful postprandial effects.

I am one of these unfortunates who has always been allergic to this vegetable, fruit or seed, in all its malevolent manifestations, green or red, little or big. And might I add size does matter. It would seem, the smaller the chilli, the more excessive the pungency. And excess is a word with variable connotations in different parts of the country. In one area a mere sprinkling of the red powdered chilli would draw derisive laughter from denizens of another part where the green chilli might be the main course, piled onto the plate while the rice and other edibles form the add-ons.

It might be fair to say that the further south one goes, the hotter it gets, though there is a tiny chilli grown in the north-east, called the Naga viper, that is vying to take the position of the hottest chilli in the world based on the Scoville scale. The test is highly subjective as one man’s hot is another man’s warm and to those who’ve never tasted it, the tiniest amount can be excruciatingly fiery.

I have gone searching far and wide for a restaurant in Bangalore which will serve me any savoury dish which doesn’t contain chillies. It would seem universally true here that if you have money you must be in need of a chilli. I went for breakfast to a ‘western’ restaurant and ordered a plain omelette with toast.

The waiter placed my order with a flourish on to my table mat. The omelette was liberally sprinkled with green bits of cut-up chillies. I asked the waiter why he had done this when I had specifically ordered a plain omelette and he answered, “Simply for taste only, sir,” and off he departed, indignantly.

I spent a good half hour picking out the green bits before putting the ‘dechillified’ pieces into my mouth. However, I hadn’t bargained for the pale chilli seeds which remained imbedded and undetected. They are after all incipient chilli plants and can be just as potent as their large green or red parents. Biting one seed produces exactly the same effect as biting into its mother’s flesh, but with the flavour exquisitely focused in one spot like a painful prick on the skin’s surface before the needle of an injection penetrates the flesh. I call them WMD’s (Weapons of Mucus Destruction).

I gave up and headed to a foreign franchised fried chicken outlet. The chicken pieces looked all right but under the crispy skin was a layer of red chilli powder. On complaining, I was informed by the attendant that it was there, “Simply for taste only, saar.”

In most of these newfangled foreign franchise holder’s coffee shops, virtually anything on the menu will come liberally laced with chilli powder, whether it be Italian pasta or chicken croissant, ‘simply for taste only’. Surely, these places ought to be closed down for making false claims even though the local palate in general demanded certain culinary standards; if Italian and Chinese dishes have been desecrated, why can’t others be ‘Indianised’ beyond recognition to the ‘dechillified’ original?

Indeed, I dread the day when my fellow sufferers and I will have to face the ultimate insult, when we will be served ‘chilli’ ice cream — simply for taste only!

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