Yes, we love curry but do we have to smell of it?

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By Sabrina Almeida

Ever have your clothes smell of curry or been around someone else who does? How did that make you feel?

I remember a manager friend having to send out a memo to his staff about not heating strong smelling foods in the office kitchen. Having a sensitive nose myself I can totally identify with the complainants. I have often found myself holding my breath around people, places and foods with a strong smell. I’m not being uppity, it’s just that it can make me really sick.

Last week I was trolling the Internet and came across some proud curry scent wearers who strongly advised us against turning up our noses at these familiar smells. Many had faced the wrath of the non-curry eaters and initially shunned Indian food in public, but over the years had come to accept it and now wear it with pride. I have not graduated to this category and doubt that I ever will.

While I love curry, I have no intention of carrying the lingering aroma with me everywhere I go. On a few occasions the smell on my own clothing has been so overpowering that it has made my stomach turn. I can’t pretend that it doesn’t bother me when I or someone around me reeks of it even though I might relish the food it originated from.

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The same pungent spices that conjure up the delicious flavours are responsible for the stubborn and sometimes offensive smells. Even stirring a pot requires some vigorous hand washing after to get the odour off your hands or it could cling to you for the whole day. I shudder to think of passing it on to an unsuspecting individual via a hand shake! I’d certainly be remembered, albeit for the wrong reasons.

Some curry lovers might brand me as a coconut or white-washed but I think that we must put things in the right perspective. Strong odours are not welcoming or tolerable even if it is from a food that you love.

With homes being tightly sealed to prevent heat loss or gain, the lingering smell of the butter chicken, chana masala or fish curry tends to permeate your pores and remain with you. I often find myself heading straight for the shower after a party at a friend’s home or a meal in an Indian restaurant. This gets worse during the winters when we almost never let the fresh air in. I make it a point to wear a coat that is machine washable to such outings rather than run to the dry cleaners every week. I have become so paranoid that I find myself sniffing my hair and clothing at intervals to determine if I am smelling.

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While the adults might mask their discomfort, the kids are not so kind. That’s why many Indian and Asian children find themselves a subject of ridicule or alone at the lunch table in school. Two young ladies were at their wits end having to field all the bad odour jokes and after a while banned their parents from frying fish and cooking any strong-smelling Indian foods in the house.

Truth be told not all of us are negligent or ignorant about food smells. Science suggests that sensory adaption causes our noses to get quickly accustomed to the smells in our homes. It’s why visitors and colleagues or classmates can smell the strong odours in our house or on our clothes and we cannot. We don’t see them as threatening.

Of course I’m not suggesting we change our food preferences. However there are a few small things we can do to prevent our homes and possessions from being taken over by the scent of curry and samosas. Like opening out the doors and windows in our homes for five to ten minutes every day, for instance. Food odours aside, letting fresh air circulate in your home also helps get rid of some of the germs and improves health. If you have wondered why this never was a problem in India where you could smell your neighbour’s cooking every day, the answer is fresh air. Our windows (and even doors) were always wide open. A pediatrician advised me to leave windows open for at least 10 minutes daily and even in winter.

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Some of us are inclined to use aerosol sprays or plugins and candles to diffuse the strong food odours. However studies suggest that the aromatic chemicals they contain can cause asthma, respiratory problems and allergic reactions. Keeping an open box of baking soda on your counter to absorb the smell is preferable and less harmful. Placing a small bowl of vinegar on the counter while cooking can also do the trick. One friend told me she bakes a cake or cookies after cooking for a party. After all who would mind smelling of vanilla or chocolate?

Yes, Indian cooking is flavourful and delicious. But I’d rather it be known for its taste rather than the smell!

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