The second habit which is the subject of this article is the bulb of onion which has the power to topple the most powerful democratic governments. I prefer not to slice it. I pick up reasonably beautiful bulb and place it upon a hard surface, and then I gather all the four fingers under the command of my thumb to make a formidable fist which goes like the hammer upon it. It bursts and for me it is tastier than any master chef’s decorated platter of salad. You may laugh and be at variance Sir!
My wife told me with grit and determination, few weeks ago, when the price of Onion was Rs 50 / Kg that henceforth, we have to reduce the intake of onion to balance the budget. I agreed and decided to compromise my habit. So we decided to use the sliced onion as a part of salad.
Then the price touched the sky and my frugal wife declared: “We won’t use as we can’t afford onion in any kind of salad any more. Only when some guests make their appearance, we will put before them as a treat or novelty.” I had but to agree.
Since then I was obsessed with onion and I thought it fit, yesterday, to do some research and present to this generation before Onion is found in our books and no more at our dining table. Let me share it with our readers.
There’re around of 500 species of onion gifted to mankind by kind. It is found in religious books of Islam as a desirable compliment by Bani Israel. Onions are mentioned to have been eaten by the Israelites in the Bible.
In Numbers 11:5 the children of Israel lament the meager desert diet enforced by the Exodus: "We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic". Once, according to many archaeologists, botanists and food historians this ubiquitous bulb of ‘allium’ family was a wild plant of Iran and Central Asia.
The only statement we could make is this humble vegetable was a staple diet in prehistoric period also, may be 5000 years or more. Authentic presence and cultivation of this vegetable is recorded in Egypt marks 2000 years. This happened alongside the cultivation of leeks and garlic. Onion was used as medicine, preservative and it was also used in creative art work of those times.
Don’t be when the governments are made to go for onion. Egyptians used to bury onions along with their Pharaohs. Some Egyptologists believe that onions may have been used because it was believed that their strong scent and/or magical powers would prompt the dead to breathe again. Onion is transportable, easy to grow and could be grown in a variety of soils and climates.
It prevents thirst and could be dried and preserved for later consumption. Onions grew in Chinese gardens as early as 5000 years ago and they are referenced in some of the oldest Vedic writings from India. There is evidence that the Sumerians were growing onions as early as 2500 B.C. One Sumerian text dated to about 2500 B.C.
The famous ancient medical treatise ‘Charaka – Sanhita’ celebrates the onion in India as medicine “…a diuretic, good for digestion, the heart, the eyes and the joints".
During World War II the Russian soldiers were treated with onion-juice to prevent infection, it was applied to battle wounds as an antiseptic.
However, the greatest respect is accorded to this staple diet in Switzerland. I realized it when a fine evening at Bern, my group was showered with pleasant confetti at ‘Onion Festival’ known as ’Zibele-Marit’ near the Swiss Parliament. As the legend goes, the onion market was created as a reward to farmers who helped the Bernese clean up after a city fire in 1405.
The Onion Festival in Bern is held on the last Monday of November. The locals and tourists were packed inside the several square blocks surrounding the large plaza with the National Bank and Parliament Building as we dived into the onion sea. Onion farmers bring with them the intricate wreaths Onion plants like the floral designs and proudly display their vegetable arts.
I met many farmers who claimed that there were attending the festival since they were children. Traditional onion designed as bouquets and straw hats with pleasing shades and shapes were developed through generations as proud art heritage. Some of the farmers were honored as Onion Specialist.
There you can buy plaited strings of onion and garlic, onion sculptures, onion tarts, onion soup and onion festoons. Want to make a change, hot wines locally brewed are available at reasonable price just like ‘Annanas Sherbat’ at ‘Bhindi Bazar’ alfresco.
You could find strangers celebrating with you confetti battles, street jeers and local onion costumes. From Onion Festival of Bern to the realities of Azad Market there is a distance of time, integrity, mindset and values. More peeling of political onion would bring anything new? I don’t know. I can hear the distant chiming of Swiss Bells.