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Podcast: The Innovative Recipes and Exotic Ingredients of Upvas Food

03/11/2015 8:23 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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Fasting - whether the reasons are medical, spiritual or even political - goes back centuries. Some fasts are absolute, where you can't eat, sometimes even drink, anything, while some type of fasts restrict what ingredients you can consume. For a practice that is so closely connected with food, its ingredients and their cooking, it might be surprising that fasting is generally not associated with the culinary world. But is it really so disconnected from the world of food? As Vikram Doctor finds out in this episode of The Real Food Podcast, the Hindu practice of fasting, which usually isn't absolute, has actually helped give rise to innovative dishes and has rediscovered long-forgotten ingredients.

Hindus, quite obviously, aren't the only ones who fast. Fasts are prevalent across religions, and it's rare to find a group of people who are forbidden from fasting. In fact, among the western religions, perhaps it's only Zoroastrianism that rejects fasting. The Iranica Online has this to say about fasting and the Zoroastrian religion - "Zoroastrians believe that the body should function as a means by which the soul can fight evil and regard any action that physically weakens the body as sinful."

Popular examples from other religions include Paryushan in Jainism, Ramadan among Muslims, Yom Kippur in Judaism and Lent, which is followed by Christians. Hinduism stands out simply for the sheer number of fasts in a year that Hindus follow. Vikram mentions that the food historian K.T. Achaya once calculated that the Bhavishya Purana lists as many as 139 different fasts to be followed in a year.

This has given birth to an entire cuisine - and that's really not an exaggeration. Upvas food - food that can be eaten during fasts - recipes are a dime a dozen. Tarla Dalal's website has around 40 recipes for fasting. Veg Recipes of India, a website with an impressive collection of vegetarian recipes, too has a long list of fasting recipes, with some intriguing dishes such as the Pumpkin Kheer and the Raw Banana Kofta.

Of course not all fasts are so much about food. There's a history of fasts being used for political purposes - Mahatma Gandhi's many fasts during India's independence struggle are a popular example of this. Then there's the medical link, which, though debatable, is conspicuous through the course of history. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, Hippocrates, the Greek physician, was known to have advocated fasting for certain patients. There's also a dark side - Linda Hazzard, a nurse from the US, is thought to have caused the death of several of her patients, whom she put on strict fasts, which Linda believed would cure them of their illnesses. She was convicted in 1912 for manslaughter.

But, fasting in general can hold great culinary significance. As Vikram Doctor perfectly puts it, "Not eating something can actually become a way to discover many more things to eat and enjoy and be nourished by, and this is the best reason to eat upvas food."

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