Let the Fun Ferment!
Cultured foods & probiotics in Asia
Shortly after arriving in Nepal, I found myself on a round of antibiotics; don’t worry, they were for nothing travel-related! I can’t even remember the last time I was on antibiotics in the States, preferring to handle things herbally when I can. However, with a lack of easy access to such natural solutions and a situation that called for something stronger, I took advantage of the abundant allopathic medicine here. While I always advocate going to the doctor before playing with pharmaceuticals, pharmacists here (abundant in every neighborhood) really know their stuff and can sometimes be a great first defense.
Between doses of antibiotics, I made sure to take some of the probiotic supplements I brought with me. After all, antibiotics don’t differentiate between the “good” and “bad” bacteria in the body, so they eliminate all the helpful critters, too—a baby-with-the-bathwater situation. Helpful flora, or probiotics, in the body aid everything from digestion to immunity and mood. They truly are part of what makes you a fully functioning human being.
Let’s be honest: I’m typically a bit of a supplements hoarder, but now that we’re traveling longterm in Asia, I have to use my small supplement stash wisely! Luckily, I am in a part of the world where food rich in probiotics is served regularly. On every menu is “curd” or yogurt; in fact, we just got back from a trip to Bhaktapur, an ancient city outside Kathmandu, Nepal famous for its yogurt, juju dhau or “King Curd.” In addition, very common is a drink called a “lassi” which is essentially a yogurt smoothie; you can get them mixed with fruit, or if you are adventurous, try a salty version. (I love salt lassis—BJ, not so much.) Yogurt in this part of the world has the benefit of being fresh and unadulterated, without the laundry list of additives and preservatives found in some conventional brands of yogurt in America. Yeah, you might not find “Boston Crème Pie” flavor yogurt, but you can add fresh mango, pineapple, local honey, crunchy muesli and nuts to your curd.
Many fermented foods are incredibly rich in probiotics; it is common here to get a side of “pickle,” which is a selection of mixed fermented vegetables, from cabbage (saurkraut) to radishes and carrots. We found an incredibly delicious Japanese restaurant called Sakura in the Boudhanath area of Kathmandu where we’ve been enjoying miso soup often. Miso is very rich in probiotics, but you have to take care not to actually boil the broth once the living miso paste is introduced to the pot. Next on my fermented food list to try at this restaurant is natto; typically in America you only see natto in supplement form (nattokinase) at astronomical prices. This purified form of natto, however, has remarkable effects on breaking down clots & growths in the body. In India, there are many flour-based goods that are fermented, like the dosa and idli; while some of the probiotics might be compromised with the heating of these delicious treats, every little bit counts! Besides, BJ doesn’t eat idli for its health properties, but its awesomeness!
It’s not that there’s a lack of probiotic-rich food in America—readily available in natural grocery stores are yogurt, keifer, miso, kombucha, saurkraut, kimchi, and more. Unfortunately, you’d be hardpressed to find those things on an average American menu, at home or in a restaurant. However, fermented foods are part of every day cuisine all over the world. “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” is put into practice here in a very real way.
I’m happy to report that I can safely maintain some of my probiotic supplement stockpile for regular maintenance and, instead, rely on daily doses of cultured food to replenish my healthy bacteria. Is there room in your diet for some fermented goodness, too?