BY AUTAR MOTA
The lotus flower comes from a a freshwater plant ( botanical name Nelumbo Nucifera ) that has been cultivated mainly in South East Asia, Mediterranean and also in some Latin American countries since ages. In north and northeast areas of the country, it is essentially grown in lakes and ponds. Hindus, Buddhist and Egyptians consider the lotus as a sacred flower. The Mahayana Buddhists believe that every soul emerges from a lotus flower. The Buddhist Mantra ‘Om mani padme hum’ refers to the ‘jewel in the lotus’ which represents illumination or enlightenment. Buddhists believe that this mantra has great spiritual powers.
In ancient Egypt, spiritual teachings held that the lotus represented the sun, and therefore is directly linked to the creation and rebirth. This belief was reinforced from the way a lotus flower closes its petals at night and hides underwater but rising again at dawn and opening its petals. The ancient Egyptians believed that the lotus flower gave birth to the sun. The blue lotus, especially, is highly revered in the Egyptian culture.
Hindus consider the entire plant including its seeds as sacred. According to the Purāņas, Brahmā ( creator of the universe ) is self-born in the lotus flower. In India, the lotus is known by various names like Pundarika, Padma, Kamala, Utpala, etc. There is a popular saying in Kashmir ‘ Lembi Munz Pamposh ’ about lotus flower which means that if one has to be in the mud, he must remain above it and shine like a lotus flower. The leaves of a lotus flower were also put to use in Kashmir as saucers for eating food.
The lotus stems are eaten as a favourite vegetable in Kashmir. Locally known as Nadru, these stems are sold as a bundle. One bundle roughly weighs more than one kilogram. A Nadru bundle is known as ‘ Geiyad’ in Kashmiri. Extracted from lakes, Nadru is extensively used as a vegetable in almost every Kashmiri household. Kashmiris cook these stems with turnips, potatoes, fish, lentils, collard greens ( Haak ) and many other vegetables. Nadru Yakhni or Nadru cooked in curd is a favourite dish in a Kashmiri Pandit family. It is a much-loved dish in a marriage feast. Nadru chips are fried crisp and a pinch of common salt and red chilly powder is sprinkled over it to make ‘Nadru Churma’. Nadru is also used for making Pakodas known as Nadru Monjji’ or ‘Monji Gooel ’ in Kashmiri.
So popular was the lotus in Kashmir that children were fondly named as Pamposh ( lotus in Kashmiri ). We had many business houses with names as Pamposh Traders, Pamposh Hotel, Pamposh Travel Service, etc.
Lotus seeds or lotus nuts locally known as ‘ Pumm-Buchh’ are abundantly grown in lakes of Kashmir. You come across this stuff being sold by footpath vegetable sellers in and around Dal lake; quite frequently on Boulevard Srinagar and also near Ashai Bagh bridge , Nigeen lake in Srinagar city. I saw this stuff being sold near the Wular lake or along the footpaths of main Bazar of Bandipore town which is situated on the eastern bank of this lake. I also saw ‘Pumm-Buchh’ being sold near the Manasbal lake in Kashmir. The fresh variety of seeds held inside a green shell are soft watery white and sweet to taste. About twenty seeds are generally held in a spongy green bulb. Once exposed to heat and air, the shell of the seeds turns hard and black and the soft white seed inside dries up and changes its colour to yellowish-brown.
Lotus seeds are eaten raw. A good amount of dried lotus seeds are used by Kashmiri Pandits as Homa Samagri ( material for burning in sacred Homa or Yajna fire ). These seeds are also put to extensive use in northeastern states of the country. In many Asian countries, the seeds are dried and used in cuisine and medicines. The use of these seeds as medicine is quite popular in China. These seeds are also put to use in some Latin American countries. I found them being sold in Amritsar on footpaths just outside Ram Bagh park.
Chinese and Japanese use the paste of lotus seeds in bakery products especially in pastries. It has been now established through clinical tests that lotus seeds act as antioxidants and help in reducing inflammation, fight ageing and lowering hypertension. The practitioners of the Chinese system of medicine prescribe the seeds for well being of spleen, kidney and heart.
LOTUS STEMS IN CHINA TOWN, NEW YORK CITY
In 2018, I searched for the lotus stems ( Nadru ) in Chinatown, New York. And then collard greens (Kaachhi Haak) was a bonus in this search. The search story goes as under:-
As we come out from the underground Canal Street metro station, we start moving towards Chinatown. This Street lies close to Little Italy or the Soho locality. Coming closer to the HSBC building, we try to seek help from shopkeepers.
“ Which side are the vegetable shops?’ I ask a smiling Chinese shop keeper selling many varieties of dried fish ( Hogaad), dried shrimps and dried mushrooms.
‘What? I Don’t follow what you say.’ comes the reply.
We move ahead and speak to another Chinese boy selling fresh baby Coconuts on the street.
‘ You understand English’
‘Yeah, little ’
‘How much one coconut?’
‘ Two Dollar fifty cent ’
‘ Where are vegetables sold?’
“ Two blocks and make a left. So many.All good .’
We move towards the suggested destination. It turns out to be a Chinese restaurant. We feel disappointed. On footpaths, we see some Afro- Americans selling low-priced goods to tourists. They sell key rings, sunglasses, purses, bags, toys, wristwatches, caps and wall pictures. They keep crying:-
‘Hey, guys. This way. This way. You gonna buy everything solid. Everything gonna cheap, Yeah sir. Madam, you wanna purse. Here go five dollars.’
I come closer to a smiling man selling caps. He has every reason to welcome us as customers.
‘Buy sir. Madam, I gonna give good caps. Good ones, take home.’
‘ No, thanks. We are looking for a vegetable shop. Can you guide us? We want to buy vegetables.”
‘ What? cooked dish! ‘
“ No, raw and fresh from the farm like kohlrabi, collard greens, tomatoes, cilantro, kale, pumpkin, gourd, eggplants, carrots, potatoes, etc. We wash, cut and then we put on the boil in the kitchen. We eat finally. That is what we want to buy.”
‘ O! I get it. You wanna go fresh produce store. Here you say vegetable, they gonna guide you restaurant. They gonna think cooked dish. Go one block and make a right. There that market and many shops sell fresh farm produce. ’
We follow the suggested path and cross the footpath where Chinese women were selling fruits like double cherries, Mexican mangoes, apricots, watermelons, muskmelons, pears, apples, plums and bananas. Suddenly we find some vegetable shops. Fresh vegetables are on display on the footpath outside these spacious shops. We stop at a vegetable shop that has a variety in collard greens. Yes, our green leafy ‘Haak ’ in various shapes and sizes.
‘ What is this? ’
‘This is Jai-lan. Good. One dollar fifty cents for a pound .’
‘ And that ’
‘Bok Choy ’
‘ Do you have lotus stem ?’
‘ What? ’
‘Long stem of a lotus flower. Tubes like inside when cut. Grows in water. Used for making a dish. In China, also used for making medicine. ’
‘ Come, see inside the Shop. ’
We go inside the shop. He opens a cardboard box. Something in Chinese is printed on the box. As he removes the grass, we find Nadru looking like turnips. The man looks at my face. I smile and he smiles too.
‘ No stem. Say lotus root. Say ‘Lian Ou ’ next time here in this market.’
I was told by a Chinese family in New York that they make liberal use of the lotus roots in their cuisine. They also use other lotus products like lotus seeds, lotus leaf and lotus root powder to make different kinds of dishes and desserts.
Autar Mota is a blogger and writes for local and national papers and journals