Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Winter’s bounty a delight in India

At no other time does God’s hand in what we get to eat seem more apparent in India than in the winter. This is the season of plenty. This is the season when vegetables are freshest and juiciest – and cheapest. When I lived in America, I used to shop for vegetables in supermarkets, also called grocery stores. Every vegetable seemed available all year round.

But, in India, certain vegetables, until a few years ago, appeared only in winter – tomato, cauliflower and green pea, for instance. Now, thanks to hybrid varieties and advanced farming, some of these vegetables are available all year round.

In any case, though, never are they cheaper and prettier than in the winter. I go grocery-shopping in Central Calcutta on Saturday mornings. Although, there are now several supermarket-style grocery stores in Calcutta, they don’t match the freshness of produce found at farmer’s market-style vegetable “stalls,” which are merely heaps on emptied jute bags laid on the ground. The vegetables make the street come alive with bright colors.

I buy from a sabziwala -- or vendor -- I have known for the past several years. He brings his fare from rural Bengal. The eggplants he sells are huge and purple or green with red streaks. Both varieties are wonderful – soft and mildly sweet, never astringent. In the winter, especially, they shine in the morning sun in all their purple or green glory. The cauliflowers are white, firm and hefty. And, the tomatoes blush in their scarlet best. The desi, or indigenous, variety is orange, and has notches running down – they aren’t perfectly round and beautiful, but, as Ashok, my sabziwala tells me, they are juicier. True, they are. Once I tried to make the classic marinara sauce with them. That’s another story; I reserve it for the next post. Until then, dear reader, I have a couple of questions for you. If you live outside South Asia, are certain vegetables seasonal in your country? Do you buy vegetables from supermarkets or farmer’s market-style vendors?


Rachael said...

In California, where I live, vegetables are available year round in the grocery stores, but at the farmers markets, they (of course) keep to the seasons. Right now, we have a lot of citrus and leaf vegetables like kale, spinach and chard. Onions too. All sorts. The best is that the blood oranges are in season. Everyone likes those. They taste the same, but the pulp is red, so that is neat.

I like your blog a lot! I hope you will keep writing, you have a fantastic way of capturing India!

RP said...

Yes indeed! There are seasonal vegetables, especially summer vegetables and winter vegetables. I prefer buying veggies from a farmer's market, but since it is away from my place, I cannot make it happen always. So just pick it up from supermarkets.

Creativecook said...


I am so glad you have started writing again, your blog helps me stay in touch with Cal.

We have a lot of apples and squashes available. Greens, oranges, that is really it.


Amira said...

Hi there, I live in Canada and most vegetables are available year round in the supermarkets... however the quality and cost for out of season vegetables usually makes them un-attractive. I generally try to stick to the farmers markets and my parents vegetable farm or my own garden during the summer ;-) I lived in Thailand for a year and miss the big open air markets! Glad I found your blog!

Anonymous said...

Is there another name or spelling for portal. I wanted to try & find seeds for this vegtable to grown in my garden. I live in Los Angeles, but i have been to Calcutta several times 7 really enjoyed eating the vegtable. -