There’s a nifty saying in Kashmiri that goes, “Pir chun’e bod; yakin chu bod” which translates as “It’s not the doctor who is great; its your belief in him that does the trick”.
Two aspects strike me insofar as aphrodisiac foods go. The first is that the Kashmiris would appear to be right after all. The second is that aphrodisiacs and gastronomy are two different (and mutually exclusive) subjects. What sort of a gourmet would agree to be served powdered rhino horn, for example. Leaving aside environmental reasons for a moment, what would it taste like? And suppose you had been conned into buying fake stuff, or had bought the real McCoy, but it didn’t have the desired effect: how would you feel?
In India, aphrodisiacs of the type that exist elsewhere in the world, don’t seem to find favour. Strangely, in the land of the Kama Sutra, aphrodisiacs for their own sake: Spanish fly, rhino horn, tiger penis, ginseng et al have never been in common currency. Those aphrodisiacs that are consumed seem to be common kitchen ingredients, coyly fed to a bridal couple on their wedding night.
Thus, in Kashmir it is done by surreptitiously placing glasses of milk and platefuls of almonds in the bridal suite. That’s not as disastrous as other combinations. In parts of Tamil Nadu, the early morning milk from a cow is boiled down with industrial quantities of asafetida and black jaggery. When it solidifies, it is served like a toffee to newly weds. To me, it constitutes an excellent reason to stay away from holy wedlock, but my friend Chef Jacob Sahaya Kumar, TV show host, food researcher and head of department at Coimbatore’s Catering College swears that this toffee from hell has been powerful enough to help childless couples conceive.
It seems that this recipe has been culled from one of three ancient Tamil scripts: Tholkaapiyam, Kalvettu Kurippugal and Porunar Aatru, whose originals date back to the 4th century. A far later aphrodisiac dating to the 8th century features poppy seeds ground to a paste and mixed with honey and tamarind, then left to heat over a gentle coal fire. Till today, asafetida (hing) and almonds are considered aphrodisiacs in Tamil Nadu.
Marut Sikka, well-known food impresario, whose research encompasses wide swathes of North India opines that every period in history threw up its own version of aphrodisiacs. In the Middle Ages, Asian spices: pepper, nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon were considered powerful aphrodisiacs. When chocolate arrived at European shores, it was co-opted as having magical effects on the libido and so on.
Ayurveda spoils sport by suggesting that there is no single wonder food that you can ingest that will give you the desired result in minutes, but Sikka does say that anything with a shell – oysters would fall into this bracket – is considered aphrodisiac in Ayurveda. The only catch is that it has to be consumed regularly. In other words, start today, and you’ll see the results next year on Valentine’s Day!
Celery Root Soup
According to Chef Jacob, celery is also considered an aphrodisiac. Here’s how to make a simple soup
4 inch piece of celery root
1 tbsp corn flour
Half tsp white pepper powder
One pinch monosodium glutamate
1 tbsp butter
Chop celery root into even sized pieces, mix the corn flour into half a cup of water. Melt butter in a saucepan and gently stir the celery root. Add water and bring to boil. Simmer for 20 minutes. Add monosodium glutamate, corn flour in water, salt and pepper. Take off fire when the liquid turns thick. Check seasoning and serve.