Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Cabbage, or Old Habits Die Hard

As unlikely a title for a post as any! I grew up wondering what the Brits had against cabbage- the hallways leading to their bed-sits were always supposed to be smelling of boiled cabbage. Didn’t sound very good to me. But then who on earth ate boiled cabbage anyway? (Apart from the Brits, that is, who are not really famous for their culinary skills). Like any good desi, we ate cabbage cooked in various ways- either tempered with asafoetida and cumin seeds and then steam-cooked along with fresh green peas, or sautéed with mustard seeds and green and red chillis, or made into koftas, or a cabbage and grape/apple raita. And shredded into salads. And of course the left over cabbage sabzi tasted wonderful on toast, or stuffed into parathas. Useful stuff to have left over.
Munching raw cabbage was a part of my childhood and my children’s childhood. The mother or aunt or elder cousin would be sitting with a large thaal and a sharp knife, and the all important cabbage. I was fascinated by an aunt’s technique. She used to cut a whole cabbage into really fine shreds using the edge of a steel tumbler. (I digress: ‘steel ka gilaas’ as opposed to ‘kaanch ka gilaas-a glass made of steel, not a glass glass! Sounds pretty mad). Chopping boards were not part of the kitchen scene in those days. All good housewives in our community at least had knife scars on their cutting thumbs!

Whatever the chopping technique used, begging for raw cabbage or swiping it from the person cutting it was an integral part of childhood. (My younger son would add salt, chilli powder and lime juice, concocting his own version of kimchi). If one was feeling particularly civilized, a small bowl or katori was brought from the kitchen for the shredded cabbage. If one was a more normal kid, the preferred technique consisted of swiping a handful and running off, and getting yelled at in the process. It was part of the fun.
But, now that our world has become even filthier than it used to be, raw cabbage is no longer safe to eat. I personally know of two people who have had tape worm larva infestation in the brain, brought on by eating raw cabbage. Vegetarians are no longer immune. The gory details are in the excerpt below. I do the cooking in my house, and find it so difficult to shred a cabbage without keeping some aside to eat raw. Another one of life's simple pleasures bites the dust.....

This article is from The Tribune, Chandigarh, May 2006

Cases of tapeworm infection on rise

By Rashmi Talwar

There has been an alarming rise in the number of tapeworm infection cases in the city in the recent months.

The disease manifests itself in epilepsy-like seizures when the worm settled in the brain releases certain toxins, causing severe trauma to the patient.

According to Dr Prabjit Singh, a neurologist with Escorts Multi-Speciality Hospital and Adlakha Hospital, 2-3 cases were being reported in both these hospitals daily.

The neurologist said he had treated almost 100 cases in the last six months. The medication for the disease needed to continue for two years to eradicate the worm from the body, he added.

The worm completes its cycle in the pig. The faecal matter or stool of pork/ pig-meat consumer carries the worm to the sewerage. The water contaminated by this kind of sewerage disposal is mostly used to irrigate fields. The worm then settles in vegetable leaves.

The neurologist, who had undertaken research in this field in the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, says, “Cabbage is the most vulnerable to house this worm. Since the vegetable is used in raw in salads and fast foods much washing, the worm continues to subsist in its womb.

The consumer of the infected cabbage thus gets infected when the worm lodges itself in the intestines, he adds.

“The worm can also affect any and multiple muscles in the body and cause seizures, frequent headaches and loss of vision when lodged in the eye. The disease is referred to as Nuero-Cysti-Cercosis (NCC) in medical terms, which also manifests itself as frequent body aches and swellings under the skin.”

The life cycle of the worm can only be cut by controlling the population of pigs, hygienic disposal of faecal waste and checking samples of pork sellers, say experts.

The farmers too need to be made aware of not irrigating their fields with untreated water, they add.


Anonymous said...

Your wistful nostalgia for a simple delight is so infectious, it makes me want to eat cabbage myself, as indifferent as I may have hitherto been to it!

Space Bar said...

I also used to love raw cabbage! I was allowed to tear off a whole leaf and eat it. BUt now, we separate each leaf and if it look okay then wash it before cutting; otherwise, if it has stuff that looks suspicious, we put it in potassium permanganate and then cut it.

I remember that Calvin and Hobbes, where Calvin asks his mother if he can lick the cake batter from the mixing dish and she says no, that has raw eggs, you can get salmonella poisoning. And he gives a huge sigh and says, 'another childhood ritual destroyed'.

Anonymous said...

and i was wondering wat to eat after cmin back frm office!!! :)))) it's a cabbage pasta tomato salad for sure now!!!!

i luuuuuuuuuuvvvvvvvv ur blog!!! so do all my frenz! :D we all cracked up completely while readin it! :))

Sue said...

My aunt picked up a worm infection last year, and the doctor it was probably from a salad somewhere. I've never been fond of veggies but since then, I've actually been scared of them raw.


utbtkids said...

Not a big fan of cabbage cooked or raw, but felt like eating some after reading about the your childhood memories. Your writing style is great Dipali.

dipali said...

OJ: the minute it's forbidden the fruit becomes an object of desire:)
space bar: Lovely to see you here.
One of my cousins was very elegant like that- peeling off cabbage leaves, rolling them up and then cutting them. We were far more barbaric! But I don't think potassium permanganate is effective against the tapeworm eggs. As of now, in India at least, eating raw cabbage is a big no-no.
I love the C&H line- it is so true- so many things will just become the stuff of memories.
Anshu and frenz: Thanks and welcome. Hope I can keep you all rolling in the aisles:)
Sue: Other raw vegetables are much safer. The saddest part is that raw cabbage is otherwise one of the healthiest things you can eat. Eating salads at home is usually fine, as long as you are sure that they are washed really well. Outside, sometimes its the mayo or other creamy dressings which cause problems. Do not look for excuses here for not eating your veggies
(scolded the mother hen).
UTBTkids: thank you (bows modestly)

Usha said...

Oh my god, while reading about this cow disease and that meat poisoning I used to feel smug and immune being a vegetarian. Now, this!
In a future not too far I except people to be popping pills to provide all forms of nutrition - that may be the only safe way to eat!

dipali said...

Usha, how very true. We vegetarians now have to abjure smugness.
C'est la vie.

Sukhaloka said...

I miss raw vegetables. Raw carrots, lettuce, cauliflower, radish, cabbage, broccoli(I think)... all those were an integral part of my childhood. Mom actually encouraged me to eat as much as I would, sometimes saving the tender part inside the cabbage just for me to eat raw.

Sadly by now, if i make a salad I blanch everything in warm salt-water first, and boil everything I can! It's bad.

@ Space bar - cake batter is awesome! And that Calvin is some intelligent six-year old.

dipali said...

Suki, I think other raw vegetables are quite safe when washed thoroughly. It's only the poor cabbage which has got such a bad press.
Loved cake batter myself. Boohoo, for the times they are a-changing.

Choxbox said...

lovely post dipali. i was part of the gang of salad-mad cousins who ran away with shredded cabbage. we also ran away with raw mango being cut for making pickles, freshly made butter or paneer and dough kneaded and to make paapad. think i better stop, my mouth is watering big time :( :)

Manjari said...

Hi, I was just talking to my sister in India today who was telling me about the cabbage worm. She was telling me that this worm does not die even from cooking or boiling. Is this the same worm? Is it true?

Anonymous said...

My mom told me about this worm today but are these cases only in India or abroad too? I live in Singapore.