With a new year upon us, there has been a lot of discussion in the social media about food resolutions for 2013. My food resolution is simple: to cook delicious, thoughtful food with local ingredients sourced from independent retailers. Three days in and not yet fully recovered from my hangover, I am already presented with some difficulties.
I was warned, before heading out with my Australian friend to celebrate the new year, with a quote from Marcus Clarke, an Australian novelist and poet:
They are not a nation of snobs like the English or of extravagant boasters like the Americans or of reckless profligates like the French, they are simply a nation of drunkards.
Being somewhat of a booze hag myself, I didn’t heed the warning and unintentionally entered into a ‘shout’. Social alcohol consumption, or ‘shouting’ is a type of Australian character test (a society descended from criminals was always going to have a fair share of sly characters to weed out). The shout has the pretence of a gift, but in reality, it is more of a loan. As my Australian friend explained, “if you have a drink bought for you, and fail to reciprocate, it reveals you as a dodgy character looking out for yourself”. There is also a strict etiquette of a round (shout), as I learned, mostly through trial and error.
In tribal societies in which gift giving is economically important, there may be exchange of gift giving of identical (or useless) gifts which serve to maintain the relationship between donors. In Australia, the ritual of the round, known virtually to all adult members of society has some parrallel functions. It symbolise entry to a group (and, for that matter, makes pointed an exclusion). It binds a group together. National Times January 1978.
Rule number one, never accept a drink if you do not intend to shout that evening. My “next time” was not acceptable, no matter how much vintage Dom Pérignon I promised at my book launch. Reciprocation is also important, as after accepting beers from the drinking party, I bought myself a less bloating prosecco when it was approaching my turn. This Australian faux par was met with a “Houdini” call in reference to my skill in escaping a round. I later found out it was also considered poor form to change the drinks mid round, that is, shouting everyone beers then essentially asking for (of all things) prosecco on the return leg. Another customary code of the shout is that of free will – the order of the round being determined by each individual volunteering that it is his shout. Once the drinking party had to remind me of my obligations to the group after sitting quietly for ten minutes. Needless to say, it never happened again, and with a trip to the bar drinking resumed in earnest.
The following morning, I noticed that the bastard koala bear had visited me; taking all my money and crapping in my mouth. I needed an ambulance in a can – the All-American hangover cure – Coca-fucking-Cola. At one of the many upscale grocers in my neighborhood, all I could find was canned foie gras from France, ridiculously expensive capers, and super cute tins of pimentón, but no Coke. And there it was mocking me with a frosty stare at a 7-11 only ours after vowing to shop independent. I couldn’t do it.
I walked for blocks until I stumbled on a small Indian grocer, hoping for a Thums Up – a strong Indian cola. What I got instead was something of a miracle. Jal-jeera masala drink, a popular summer drink in India derived from cumin, mint and another green herb the grocer didn’t know the English name for. Jal-jeera has a very long history, originating on the banks of the Ganges river. The cumin is a medicinal ingredient which aids digestion and reduces swelling (my throbbing headache was gone after the first sip), the mint has a cooling effect and the black salt rehydrates. My dry mouth was also gone as the drink improved saliva secretion and increased my appetite ten fold. It had a profound calming effect, unlike Coke which acts as more of a stimulant. Although I have also now vowed to never drink again, Jal-jeera will definitely remain as my miracle pick-me-up.
What is your food resolution for 2013?