Things not to read on an empty stomach

Jhumpa Lahiri on the days before every store in the US stocked saffron and cardamom, when her family would pack nostalgia into a Food suitcase bound for America:

“My parents created lists on endless sheets of paper, and my father spent days in the bazaars, haggling and buying by the kilo. He always insisted on packing the goods himself, with the aura of a man possessed: bare-chested, seated cross-legged on the floor, determined, above all, to make sure everything fit. He bound the Food Suitcase with enough rope to baffle Houdini and locked it up with a little padlock, a scheme that succeeded in intimidating the most assiduous of customs inspectors. Into the suitcase went an arsenal of lentils and every conceivable spice, wrapped in layers of cloth ripped from an old sari and stitched into individual packets. In went white poppy seeds, and resin made from date syrup, and as many tins of Ganesh mustard oil as possible. In went Lapchu tea, to be brewed only on special occasions, and sacks of black-skinned Gobindovog rice, so named, it is said, because it’s fit for offering to the god Govinda. In went six kinds of dalmoot, a salty, crunchy snack mix bought from big glass jars in a tiny store at the corner of Vivekananda Road and Cornwallis Street. In, on occasion, went something fresh, and therefore flagrantly illegal: a bumpy, bright green bitter melon, or bay leaves from my uncle’s garden. My parents weren’t the only ones willing to flout the law. One year my grandmother secretly tucked parvals, a vaguely squash-like vegetable, into the Food Suitcase. My mother wept when she found them.”

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