Sunday, 19 February 2012

An Ode to Chukku Kaapi

This past week, I was introduced, against my wishes, for the second time this winter, to the life cycle of the common cold. Last Sunday, I knew that I was coming down with something when I woke up with a scratchy throat. That didn't stop the braveheart (or the idiot) that I am from sampling some of the Haagen Dazs Pralines and Cream ice-cream that I had bought from the neighbourhood Tesco's and tucked away in my freezer for a rare treat.

That was all the encouragement that the cold virus nesting somewhere in the depths of my respiratory system needed. Sniffles on Monday, a blocked nose on Tuesday and Wednesday, followed by a full blown chesty cough for the rest of the week.

I find that Londoners can make a pariah out of you, if you happen to be nursing a bad cough. They're a fairly tolerant bunch when it comes to most things. But a cougher. No way. Getting into work involves a nine minute train ride for me. In that short space of time, try as I did, I couldn't stop a couple of raspy coughs from escaping my throat. I could feel my co-passengers' eyes on me, as they looked up from their newspapers and books to give me a cold, hard stare as censure for all the germs that I had managed to spread in the crowded compartment.

Ah, but my skin is getting thicker as I grow older. All that social ensure hasn't made me stray from my family's policy of staying away from over the counter medicines as much as possible. When we were little kids with permanently sniffly noses, my mother would force a concoction of honey with ground ginger and pepper upon my brother and me. My childish tastes did not take to the heat of the ginger and pepper, but as an adult, I would count a teaspoonful of the mixture as a tasty little treat rather than as a nasty medicine.

Most Indian households tend to have their own magic home remedy for the common cold. In north India, I believe that a mixture of hot milk and turmeric is a common cure. In Kerala, chukku kaapi (which roughly translates into dry ginger coffee; chukku = dry ginger, and kaapi = coffee) whilst consumed more widely than just as a remedy for a bad cold (it is so tasty that it would be shame to wait for a cold to strike!) is also known to be be a good cure for a bad throat.

Growing up in Delhi, I don't recollect consuming very much chukku kaapi. I have a distant memory of being introduced to the spicy drink on one of our annual visits home to Kerala. Unfortunately, I can't seem to remember when I first had my first cup of chukku kaapi. There are far too many food memories linked to my Kerala vacations stacked up on top off each other, jostling for space inside my head, for me to be able to dig out the one of my first chukku kaapi without some serious mental digging around.

The star ingredient in a cup of chukku kaapi other than the chukku of course, is pepper, which is known to be good for all ailments of the throat. The drink is made palatably sweet by the addition of jaggery, or sharkara, as we call it in Malayalam, which has a distinct flavour that brings a new dimension to the drink.

On my last trip home, my mother managed to track down some instant chukku kaapi powder in Delhi and packed it away in my suitcase so that I can enjoy some chukku kaapi in London. I have managed to consume most of my chukku kaapi supplies, which reminds me that I need to ask her to despatch some more through a friend who is visiting me next month. I've never attempted to concoct a cup of chukku kaapi by myself but was delighted to see that a recipe is available online on a lovely blog that presents a number of traditional Malayali recipes.

Other than the holy basil/tulsi, the ingredients should all be readily available. I'd suggest you make yourself a cup of the warm brew. If you have a cold, now's the time to say goodbye. If not, you can enjoy a cup anyway and feel thankful that you have been spared for the time being.

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