Food for thought…

Food is of course, a big part of our life especially if you like cooking! Last couple of months, every time I went to grocery store, started noticing something. Not that this change came all of a sudden but it started registering in my brain.

I like to cook from scratch most of the time. I don’t use much of processed foods and we love food from all around the world. It also means finding ingredients becomes a challenge. I do miss Bay area for it’s abundance of ingredients from all around the world (Thanks to the multi-cultural environment). I admit it is better now even in Tampere than it was a decade ago. So, anytime I go to grocery store these days (Finnish or Asian), I tend to notice what new things are getting added.

Over the last century or so, food habits started changing around the world especially with the introduction of canning and processing. Some countries earlier than later of course. But I think in the last few decades, the change has been rapid and wide. And I suspect one of the reasons a lot of us have food related issues. Any change in environment takes time for human bodies to adopt to (like they adopted to agriculture, eating vegetables, milk etc etc).

Fermented food – Almost every culture I came across have some form of fermented food in their regular diet. Idli, dosa etc in India, sourdough bread from various countries including Finland, Kimchi in Korea, Sauerkraut in German and the list goes on and on.. Long ago, people realized these fermented foods are not only yummy but also good for health. Fermented foods tend to have live probiotic bacteria which are much needed for a healthy gut. Recent research seems to not only support this theory but also found link to healthy mind. Before I read any of these research papers, I did notice for myself that albeit the hard way.

It started after a bout of bacterial infection in the stomach (H.Pylori).  I seem to have developed a sensitivity to wheat. Now, before dismissing it as “it’s all in my brain”, please do read-on. Because I told myself that many times…that it has to be in my brain..that I didn’t have any allergy before.. Doctors did test for Celiac and thankfully I don’t have that so it has to be in my mind.  They did find that my stomach lining was affected by the bacteria and asked me to take PPI (Proton-Pump Inhibitors) for the rest of my life. But I noticed that it happens only when I eat something (knowingly or unknowingly) that has wheat in it. I suffer with stomach pain, bloating and worst of all, haziness in the mind. It clears up in a couple of days of course so it’s not life threatening. It took a lot of experimentation to figure that out. It’s NOT Gluten but just wheat so I can eat Rye and other grains. So, instead of taking PPI’s I just avoid wheat.

10583888_10204660816819306_264837252914655873_nI have been making Rye Sourdough for a long time since all of us enjoy that at home.  But most interesting thing I found after a few years is that I can eat Sourdough bread, even one that’s made from wheat! Whatever sensitivity I have for wheat, the good old wild yeast seem to make it all better!. I guess that’s when I became the biggest fan of pro-biotic foods. Yogurt has lot of them too and different fermented foods probably have different strains. Thus began my journey of adding more probiotic natural foods into our diet. While living in Bay area, it was a bit more convenient with stores like Whole Foods as source for good sauerkraut, kimchi etc with no additives. But in Finland, I have yet to find something that doesn’t have any additives. Even Kombucha, I find a lot of brands have carbonated water and additives I don’t care for. So, I started making the ones I use most. My latest pride and joy is making Sourdough bread with nothing but flour, water and a bit of starter. I couldn’t find any sourdough bread in Finland that doesn’t have commercial yeast unfortunately, so making at home is the only option. Same with Kimchi and Sauerkraut. I am finding myself needing to make those regularly (at least once a month) to have continuous supply! And starting next week, I will have Kombucha at home too! Fortunately, most Indian fermented foods can be done easily within 1-2 days so no prior planning required. Finnish Rye bread is also made similar to wheat sourdough and definitely is a staple food at our home.

IMG_8950The other thing I have a bone to pick with is literally Bones…When I grew up, we used to eat meat not so often mainly because it’s too expensive but when we did it was always meat with bones. And they are cooked slow enough for the minerals to leach out of the bones. In US, for a while, I did go for the convenient option of boneless meat because, well, it’s quite convenient, isn’t it? In Finland, it goes even a little further! Meat is nicely cut into bite size pieces and sold… or fillets. No bones, no skin! exception is of course, IMG_8149chicken legs or wings sold separately. Not only that, it’s actually harder to find meat that’s not already marinated (in gazillion flavors) than the ones that are marinated. I don’t use already marinated meat so my choices get limited. I also prefer to use darker meat of chicken than breast meat which makes it’s insanely hard to find it. If I really want a whole chicken with bones and skin, I might find it in the freezer section, in a bigger grocery store, if I am lucky.

This has unintentional consequences as we miss out a lot of minerals that come from the bones. Of course to make soups like Phở, you need to make broth with bones. I very very rarely used store made broth even in US and here, never even looked for them. So, I try to find the right time when the butcher is still in the store (possible only in big stores of course) and buy bones from them to make my broth for Phở or soups.

IMG_8953There are two aisles dedicated for processed foods. One of them strictly for sausages! Finnish sausages are quite good admittedly but the quantity available is a bit insane:). Of course for me, with my pickiness about not having MSG or a bunch of chemicals, the choices are quite limited so no problem there.

It makes me wonder how food habits will change with the younger generation if a lot of them already are used to eating/cooking only with nicely sliced meats. Because, well, they have even less time than we do for cooking right…

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As the title suggests, I am an Indian (born and raised) who lived and worked in California, married a Finnish guy and now living in Finland raising our son. Here's my take on living in Finland.

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