There’s a nifty saying in Kashmiri, “Pir shun bod; yakin chu bod”, which translates as “It’s not the doctor who is great; it’s your belief in him that does the trick”.
Spice it up: Chocolate, celery and clove have all been consumed to improve sex drive.
Two aspects strike me in so far as aphrodisiac foods go. The first is that the Kashmiris would appear to be right after all. The second is that aphrodisiacs and gastronomy are two different (and mutually exclusive) subjects. What sort of a gourmet would agree to be served powdered rhino horn, for example? Leaving aside concerns about the rhino becoming extinct for a moment, what would it taste like? And suppose you had been conned into buying fake stuff, or had bought the real McCoy, but it didn’t have the desired effect; how would you feel?
In India, aphrodisiacs of the type that exist elsewhere in the world don’t seem to find favour. Strangely, in the land of the Kama Sutra, aphrodisiacs for their own sake—Spanish fly, rhino horn, tiger penis, ginseng—have never been in common currency. Those that are consumed seem to be common kitchen ingredients, fed to a couple on their wedding night.
In Kashmir, it is done by surreptitiously placing glasses of milk and platefuls of almonds in the bridal suite. That’s not as disastrous as other combinations. In parts of Tamil Nadu, the early morning milk from a cow is reduced with industrial quantities of asafoetida (hing) and black jaggery. When it solidifies, it is served as a toffee to newly-weds. To me, it constitutes an excellent reason to stay away from holy matrimony, but my friend, chef Jacob Sahaya Kumar—TV show host, food researcher and director of catering studies at Sankara College of Science and Commerce, Coimbatore—swears that this toffee from hell has been powerful enough to help childless couples conceive.
It seems that this recipe has been culled from one of three ancient Tamil scripts: Tholkaapiyam, Kalvettu Kurippugal and Porunar Aatru. A newer aphrodisiac, dating back to the eighth century, features poppy seeds ground to a paste and mixed with honey and tamarind, then cooked over a gentle coal fire. To this day, asafoetida and almonds are considered aphrodisiacs in Tamil Nadu.
Marut Sikka, well-known food impresario, opines that every period in history threw up its own version of aphrodisiacs. In the Middle Ages, Asian spices—pepper, nutmeg, clove and cinnamon—were considered powerful aphrodisiacs. When chocolate arrived on European shores, it was co-opted as having magical effects on the libido.
Ayurveda plays spoilsport by suggesting there is no single wonder food you can ingest that will give you the desired result in minutes, but Sikka does say that anything with a shell—oysters would fall into this bracket—is considered aphrodisiacal in Ayurveda. The only catch is that it has to be consumed regularly. In other words, start today, and you’ll see the results next year on Valentine’s Day!
Celery Root Soup
According to chef Kumar, celery is considered an aphrodisiac. Here’s how to make a simple soup
4-inch piece of celery root
1 tbsp corn flour
½ tsp white pepper powder
1 tbsp butter
A pinch of monosodium glutamate
Salt to taste
Chop the celery root into even-sized pieces. Mix the corn flour into half a cup of water. Melt butter in a saucepan, add the celery root pieces and gently stir. Add water and bring to a boil. Simmer for 20 minutes. Add monosodium glutamate, the diluted corn flour, salt and pepper. Take off the fire when the liquid turns thick. Check the seasoning and serve.
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