India Travelogue: Oh Ghee, If You Were Only Calorie Free!

Between the two of us, Navdeep and I have probably already gained 15 lbs. in two weeks. And we haven’t been hoarding junky street food, though we still have big plans to. It’s just that we’ve spent the last two weeks in the heart of Punjab, devouring hearty home cooking. Paranthas, samosas, pakore, daal makhani, paneer in all its wonderous forms, deep-fried buttery omelets. All very tasty. But all very heavy. It wouldn’t be so bad except that the etiquette here dictates that you can’t really say no to what is being offered, especially if you are visiting someone’s home for the first time.

And the daily menu always includes morning cha, inevitably with cookies or other snacks, followed by breakfast, then a mid-morning snack, then lunch, then afternoon cha with samosas or pakoras, then an evening snack, and finally a late dinner. Add to that the occasional 140-calorie Limca or ice cream indulgence, and you’re likely double the already weighty 2000-calorie per day FDA average that fat Americans consume.

Given our comprehensive daily menu, we haven’t really had the urge to splurge on paneer pakore or gol guppas on our own. In fact, we’ve started strategizing on how to cut down on our cholestrol-laden consumption. The problem is that every breakfast item on the Indian menu is fried: eggs, chole puri, paranthas. And Navdeep says toast and/or fruit doesn’t count as a real meal in India. Plus, they put hot milk in the cornflakes here, rendering them completely soggy and useless. Eeeeeeeew.

Then there is the passionate Punjabi penchant for ghio. Ghio or ghee, in its pure form, is an intensely rich and yummy clarified butter, which, when used sparingly (or even just a bit indulgently), can bring a whole new flavor and texture to Indian cooking. But from Patiala to Pathankhot, and everywhere in between, it’s not used sparingly. It’s plentiful and pervasive, often drowning a daal, paranthas and especially the prasad at the local gurudwara. It’s authentic, down-home Punjabi cuisine at its finest and most basic. And admittedly, it’s wholly enjoyable. Except if you grown up in a fat-free, calorie-free, sugar-free country like the United States.

So what’s a pseudo calorie and cholesterol-conscious couple to do? Enjoy it while it lasts and pay the inevitable consequences later? Skip the soft drinks and the give up the beloved train-stop snacks? But how? But why? We should just accept, nay, embrace our culinary roots. But still, I can’t help but occasionally lament my once svelte self with a cry of, ‘Oh ghee, if you were only calorie-free.’

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