Well, I really wasn't talking about fiery chilis or spicy heat.
No, no, NO! Not the movie Some Like It Hot (1959) either. Although that is my favorite movie. How could you go wrong with an all star cast (Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon) and Billy Wilder's brilliant script and direction? If you haven't seen it, SEE IT!
|Bibi's cooking - FIRE IN THE HOLE!!!|
I'm talking about food temperature! When we were first married my Indian husband would complain about the food I served being too hot. "Why so hot!?!" I looked at him absolutely bewildered as I proudly put a piping hot dish on the table. That just boggled my American brain. The objective of getting the food as hot as possible to the table was something that I'd just never questioned about my Western culture. With the exceptions of certain foods like salads and ice cream why are we Westerners so obsessed with our food being served so hot? And why do Indians not want their food served sizzling hot?
Well, duh Bibi. Indians eat with their hands! Nobody wants to stick their hands into scorching hot food. Traditionally, the fingers are used to determine the temperature of the food as well as combining flavors. In fact, there is a Hadith in Islam that warns there is no blessing in food that is too hot. Ayurvedic practices too recommend eating food that is warm or at room temperature for optimal health.
So where did this Western notion of the hotter the better for certain foods come from? After all we Westerners eat certain foods with our hands. Fried chicken, pizza, french fries, and hamburgers are all eaten commonly with hands and are served hot. A tepid cooked item tends to induce unease in the Western palate. A lukewarm temperature suggests that the food has been languishing, possibly festering, or has at best been poorly reheated. I actually like cold fried chicken and pizza but a congealed burger and fries is truly icky.
Apparently this fetish for piping hot foods began with the 19th century trend of higher social classes' dining styles switching from the service à la française to the service à la russe in Western Europe. The service à la française (literally service in the French style) began in the 17th century and evolved over the next 150 years. A formal dinner served à la française would have a variety of hot and cold dishes all set on the table at one time before the diners arrived. The diners would then seat themselves and enjoy the dishes communally. The great disadvantage of this à la française style of service was that hot foods often became cold before it was even time for the diners to eat. Contrast this to the service à la russe (literally service in the Russian style) in which dishes are brought out sequentially in courses and served individually. Dishes such as roasts served à la russe were prepared in the kitchen then sent out to the table whilst still hot, similar to a Western style restaurant today. And so the rush to get hot food from the kitchen to the table was on! (Service à la russe also gave way to the Western fascination with the esoteric and redundant cutlery you see in the above photo too. No one ever heard of a salad fork or dessert spoon before service à la russe became en vogue.)
I thought it would have more to do with Western cultures preferring their foods served hotter due to colder climates or something more mundane. I am certain fast food commercials in the West have reinforced the notion that hot equates to fresh. It probably doesn't occur to the average Western consumer of such items that their hot food item is hardly fresh at all. In reality it was probably lurking in the walk-in freezer for months previously to being served. Come to think of it, most all foods Westerners eat with their hands are rather informal and cheap foods. Perhaps that's part of the disdain Westerners have about eating with their hands?
Anywho, be sure to serve your Indian guests warm food not sizzling hot. It doesn't matter if your guests are seated at a table, on flimsy plastic chairs at a wedding, or on the floor aside a dastarkhaan. I'm not going to go into the details of how to properly eat with your hands as I still can't do it. Always eat with your right hand even if you are a lefty though. (Although you can use your left hand to pass dishes or to serve or drink water.) If you don't feel comfortable eating with your hands don't feel embarrassed if you need to ask for a spoon, special requests are usually welcomed at an Indian dinner table.
There are some things that are traditionally served quite hot on the Subcontinent though. Momos are a juicy, stuffed dumpling popular in Nepal but often found as a street food all over India now. Freshly steamed momos taste best served piping hot arranged pleated side up on a warmed plate. Yes, momos are eaten with hands only also. Nobody wants cold or lukewarm momos!
Chai or milky tea must always be served scalding hot. No matter if the weather is oppressively humid, swelteringly torrid, or blisteringly broiling. Your chai must be served positively burn-your-mouth and cauterize-your-tonsils HOT! We Americans like our coffee served about the same temperature as molten lava too. Be forewarned the majority of times your chai will be pre-sugared to syrupy sweetness. Actually it's becoming fashionable to serve sweeteners on the side so that guests may adjust it to their tastes. But it better be HOT!
So always remember, some like it hot!!!
Please be doing the needful,