Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Growing up Goan: homemade remedies & medicinal mixology

Goan leg of lamb lunch  |  Homemade remedies & growing up Goan on *sparklingly  |  http://sparklingly.blogspot.com
{  Typical Goan lunch @ my Mom's: Leg of vinegary-roasted lamb, mango salad and saffron rice  }

In my haste and excitement to share my rectified state-of-lush-ness, I completely forgot to actually tell you why some cocktails deserve to be treated (and enjoyed) like natural medicine. Eat your vegetables, yes, but drink your herbs and vitamins, too!

But first, a bit about how I grew up:

I'm a first-generation American born to immigrant parents that met at a party in Manhattan—oddly enough, they're actually from the same area (although perhaps not so odd, since the party was related to their common heritage). Like most children born in the 80's to foreigners, my parents were pretty determined to bring us up as American as possible, meaning that we were not spoken to in their common dialect (which upsets me to no end today), and we enjoyed a variety of foods (although non were typically "American", apart from the damn good burgers my parents grilled out on our deck. I didn't have peanut butter or macaroni and cheese until college!).

Probably 70% of what we ate at home was definitely Goan, or Goan-influenced, which really isn't so far from basic Mediterranean fare (Goan food, and  Goan dialects, are a hybrid of Portuguese and Indian). Actually, a lot of the flavors that are sprinkled throughout Goan food is really similar to Sicilian—both being influenced by water, Arabs, and tropical climates, so: lots of small-scale fish, almonds, pistachios and vinegar-pickled/cured vegetables and meat. Goan cuisine then veers stiffly away because it's heavy in pork and coconut, which of course aren't as common in Sicilian food.

The remaining 30% of our diet was greatly influenced by our extended family, travels, and the fact that my parents are both great cooks that like to experiment—so a few German dishes here, a couple of Southern Italian meals there, some flamboyant French dessert way back over there, etc.

Other than the majority of what we ate, the other thing that my parents were insistent on incorporating into our childhoods (whether for the sake of preservation or because their way just made more sense...or because we grew up without health insurance), was natural home remedies.

Have a high fever? No Tylenol for us. Instead we applied an onion compress (and of course cancelled any subsequent social engagements, because that pungent odor tends to linger in hair, especially long hair like mine). Stomach cramps or a chill? Cupping performed on the floor of our den (although I eloquently referred to it as "fire on my belly!", and only in the last 10 years did I realize this was an actual medical "procedure" performed throughout the world). Chest congestion? No Dayquil for us, but a Vicks application before bed and an Egg Flip on an empty stomach.

Funnily enough, the concept of an Egg Flip (which is basically coffee + egg + liquor + sugar) is considered "Paleo"/"Primal" these days (although sans alcohol and most of the sugar). And Goan culture is just one of many that gets the health benefits of the combination (Vietnam has a version, too, for example). The coffee essentially "burns" through whatever is gunking up your system and delivers antioxidants, while the raw egg (which is sanitized by the hot coffee and alcohol, although raw eggs don't bother me at all) provides nutrients and protein to bolster you up. The sugar makes it more palatable for children (now I make it without), and the alcohol keeps things clean and knocks you out so your body can recover while you get extra sleep.

And when drunk on an empty stomach, the combination cleans out your system (I think you know what I mean), and makes you feel strong and vibrant. We used to have this early in the morning if we weren't feeling too hot and were usually well enough by the time the school bus rolled by to get ourselves to class.

All this to say: the idea of herbal home remedies or what I used to call "voodoo" medicine, is something that comes naturally to me, and something I strongly believe in.

Which is where medicinal mixology comes in. Ever since I first started enjoying spirits, I've always veered toward the bitter, herb-y concoctions. Whether my body was craving that goodness or just refuting the idea of garishly-colored cocktails, I don't know, but I've always been this way.

Some of my favorites?
  • Bitters: The most medicinal and curative of the bunch. Bitters like Gran Classico (and formerly, Campari), are essentially elixirs containing highly concentrated dosages of all the goodness squeezed out of herbs and roots like artichoke leaf, angelica, dandelion, chamomile, hyssop leaf, cardamom, cinnamon, yarrow, gentian, burdock, ginger, orange peel, fennel seed, etc.

    Bitters are generally used in drinks that are aperitivos/apertifs (which stimulate the appetite) or digestivos/digestifs (which help you digest). A healthy digestive system is one of the most important indicators of overall vitality—if your insides are all gummed up, you won't be able to absorb all the nutrients from the food that you eat and you'll feel the effects of the toxins trapped in your system with bloating, heartburn, less clear and vibrant skin, nails and hair, and a general feeling of stuffiness. You'll also be much more prone to catching colds.

    If I had a meal that was either too big or didn't agree with me, I'd much rather reach for a dark brown bottle of aromatic goodness to stimulate digestive enzymes and help cleanse my liver, than a bottle of antacids that would just mask the symptoms.

  • Whisky/Bourbon: The former means "water of life" in Gaelic, and rightly so, as it's an antiseptic and considered to keep heart disease at bay when drunk in moderation because it raises the body's level of antioxidants (just like red wine), helping you absorb a greater proportion of the phenol chemicals that protect the heart. They both also contain good cholesterol to help your body heal itself, ellagic acid (which is also found in fruit and known to combat rogue cells that cause cancer), and help minimize the negative symptoms of colds and coughs.

  • Tequila: Bourbon was always my spirit of choice, but I have to say that I think Tequila is edging its way up. I never drank Tequila in college, so perhaps that's why I don't have the same Jose-Cuervo-fuelled negative impressions that many do. But good Tequila, enjoyed sanely, actually has some beneficial properties—it can lower cholesterol, alleviate mild strain, tension and headaches, and may decrease the risk of colon cancer (the latter seems a bit far-fetched to me, though—but you never know!).

  • Gin: Most people's first experience with Gin is a Gin & Tonic. Funny how the "tonic" part communicates the health benefit right there, right? Tonic water contains quinine, which prevents malaria—and pretty much explains why all the folks colonizing land in the Americas threw it back non-stop. Gin itself is made from juniper berries, a natural diuretic that promotes kidney function, helps keep your system running smoothly, and decreases blood-glucose levels. Gin is also in the same camp as Whisky/Bourbon, in that it's said to reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes and boost good (HDL) cholesterol.

The majority of what we drink at home is either one of the above straight up or on the rocks, or sometimes with the addition of these (or a combination of them): sparkling water, fresh lemon/lime juice, and mint/basil. But to make some cocktails, like my preferred Negroni or Margarita, a few other ingredients need to be tossed in. And then of course, there's wine, but you already know that red wine is good for you, right? After all, the longest-living communities in the world have this in common.

With or without health benefits, perhaps the best reason to enjoy a drink is just that—it's enjoyable. Obviously all of these potential good properties are swiftly cancelled out if enjoyed in excess, though, so let's all do as St. Thomas Aquinas suggested and drink (only) "to the point of hilarity". Cheers!


  1. I love this! We also did cupping, but never on the stomach... always on the back. Also we had these yellow square papers (sort of mustardy) to stick on the back when you had a cold. And of course my most hated of all, inhilation, over boiled water with herbs and blanket over your head. Stuffed nose? squeeze few drops of onion juice in your nose... horrifying. There is one recipe I do like (similar to your egg flip) gogol-mogol: egg yolk + sugar + bit of baking soda - stir stir stir - add hot water slowly stir stir and drink, it actually tastes really good. We drank it before going to bad (sort of instead of the modern NyQuil). Love your drink choices btw!

    1. I love the synchronicity across cultures! Onions and eggs and herbs, oh my!

      We did cupping on the back, too, but I usually asked for it for cramps (ugh), so it was most often done to me on my abdomen. I'd love to know what was on those yellow square papers——maybe something in common with the onion compresses we used? Thanks for sharing yours!

    2. Here is how I remember them - mustard patches I guess. I hear they're still used in France as well...

    3. Ooo, interesting, thanks for sharing!
      (And thank goodness for Google Translate! ;) ).

  2. J - you've completely given me new perspective on these hard liquors! -M


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