Thursday, August 8, 2019

Basil the Harbinger of Doom

At what point did basil, a largely harmless and uninteresting plant, suddenly become the be all and end all of culinary achievement without which no meal, even a bowl of cornflakes, is complete?  Pasta, roasts, fried chicken, soups even icecream are considered to have their unworthy existence enhanced with the addition of basil.  Which leads me to my next question, has anybody tried these foods without basil?  Spoiler alert, they taste better.

It has to be admitted that I'm not a big fan of basil.  I think this dates back to my watching Fawlty Towers and realising that there's only one joke and it's that Basil is an idiot.  I only needed to watch one episode, all the rest was repetition.  On the other hand basil was redeemed for me as a child by my exposure to Basil Brush who was brilliant.  Despite that I wouldn't think of placing either Basil on my food.

I've never been particularly fond of basil and its almost ubiquitous presence in food is becoming irritating.  I've just come back from South East Asia where the diet is basically basil plus some other stuff.  It doesn't even have a particularly strong taste, just enough to spoil the flavour of whatever its with.  On the other hand it is useful in Chinese medicine (which seems to consist of just grinding up whatever organic matter happens to be on hand).  I'm not entirely sure what basil is supposed to cure but it probably doesn't matter.  It's traditional and cultural so whether it works or not is largely irrelevant.  On a slightly more positive note basil is also apparently an antidote to basilisk venom.

While I'm fully in favour of inoculating our children against basilisk attack I don't see the reason for putting the stuff on our food.  We don't put other medicine on food.  I'm not in the habit of grinding up oxycontin and sprinkling it on my cereal, or at least not since I got rid of that kidney stone. 

But possibly the most disturbing thing about basil is its connection with death.  In India basil is placed in the mouth of the recently departed to ensure they reach God.  Or possibly a lot of people die while eating in India and they just happened to have the basil there already.  It's sometimes a little difficult to determine what is a genuine cultural practice and what is simply an unfortunate coincidence.  In an interesting piece of parallel cultural evolution in Europe basil was placed in the hands of the dead to ensure a safe journey.  One can't help thinking the basil may have been of more use before they got on that coach. 

Still the connection between basil and death seems to be pretty widespread.  If you go to someone's house and they produce a delicious meal for your enjoyment examine it closely to see if there's any basil in it.  If the answer is in the affirmative well, I'm not saying they're actively trying to kill you.  Just that they seem to be almost indecently prepared for the event should it happen.  You might want to check and see if they bothered preparing a dessert.

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