Sweet Nothings: How to Survive as a Sugar-Conscious Gujarati
Illustration: Shruti Yatam
Every Gujarati wedding menu has two kinds of dal; there’s “normal” dal and then there’s meethi dal. The first bland and boring version is for the six people at the wedding who are fitness conscious and are obviously not Gujarati, and the latter is for the rest of us who will die of diabetes. Then there’s sweet kadhi, sev tameta nu shaak, and basundi – all this even before you reach the dessert counter – for the sugar rush we need to dance to “Sanedo” later. They say some stereotypes exist because they are true, and this is certainly true for us Gujaratis. We love sweet food, truly madly deeply.
You could say Gujjus are as obsessed with sweet food as paps and admins of dank meme pages are with Taimur Ali Khan. In a Gujarati household, the sugar jar is placed right next to the salt jar, and used as liberally as Virat Kohli uses expletives on the field.
We can live without water but not sugar and jaggery, especially in places where the rest of the world thinks they have no business being. We like our pizza with more ketchup than toppings – in fact, the sweet tang of ketchup makes everything from dal chawal to hakka noodles to falafel better.
For breakfast, we either have bread with layers of jam or roti, or a side of gud. Lunch is always followed by sweet chaas or sweet lassi. At dinner, we have mithai with food and then have ice cream an hour later for dessert. Post that, we have a meetha paan as the closing act and follow it with some sugary saunf. Our meals and drinks come in size XL but our taste is always an S (sweet).
But now, in an age where people have quinoa cake or avocado chocolate pudding for dessert, it’s not easy for us sugar-loving Gujjus to survive without judgment. At work, when I pour two entire packets of sugar into my coffee, my colleagues give me the death stare generally reserved for those who defend demonetisation. But can you really blame me? In our house, black coffee is treated like a medicine to cure stomach issues and the non-Gujarati cook who forgets to add sweet to undhiyu is promptly fired.
I don’t know how my family will cope with this new-fangled – ok, old-fangled – idea of how sugar is the biggest, hidden villain in the culinary world. Because my fam doesn’t think that we use too much sugar; it passionately believes that the rest of the world uses too little.
While it may appear that we snort sugar instead of cocaine, the reason for excessive use of sugar and jaggery in food is the kharo paani (salty groundwater) in Gujarat that made the food taste awful. Our ancestors used the sweetners to make food palatable and today, even as the situation has changed radically, our food habits haven’t kept up. Gujaratis might be one of the most successful entrepreneurial communities in the world – shoutout to my peeps at Antilia – but our food still reflects a slightly primal urge. And it is impossible for us to keep up with the health consciousness of the modern world.
In fact, in a Gujarati family, along with a ghar and family “bijness”, diabetes is passed on from one generation to another. My grandparents suffered from diabetes and my parents are carrying forward the glorious tradition. I often wonder that if I become conscious about my sugar intake, will I let them down?
Still, at the risk of being disowned, I’ve started to be a little more conscious these days. Each time my mom reaches for the extra-large dabba of sugar in the supermarket, I keep it back and pick the small one. And every time dad heads to the sweet counter at a shaadi before his meal, I distract him. Next on my agenda, is to convince them that pizza tastes just as nice even without ketchup. I may be successful in this endeavour or I might end up with diabetes – either way, I’ll have made a dent in this vestigial instinct. As for the avocado chocolate pudding… don’t call us, we’ll call you.