I hadn’t realized that poppy seeds come in different shades; I always thought they were black, as they are in breads in Europe, so I was surprised to be told that the small grains of sand I was looking at were in fact, seeds from the poppy plant. Then I was shown different coloured seeds, some dark-blue, and some more of a yellow than white. Because bread as we know it is not popular, or common in Pakistan, there is no bread with poppy seeds. The typical roti (or chapattis) are plain, as are the naan type breads, although some naan are like pizzas, and topped with potato paste or gram flour paste with slices of tomato and hot green chillies. Only paratha are stuffed with vegetables such as grated mooli, and these are eaten at weekends for breakfast, when people aren’t in a hurry to go to work. Nowadays, where I live in Rawalpindi, very few people bother to cook roti, as they are subsidized by the provincial government, and sell at only 2 rupees per roti. Given the amount of time and effort it takes to cook roti, it’s much easier to buy them from the local tandoor ready made.
The Latin name for the poppy, Papavar somniferum (the poppy of sleep) always reminds me of the scene in the “Wizard of Oz” when Dorothy and her companions succumb to the somniferous effects of the flowers and fall asleep in a field of poppies.
The ancient Greeks associated the poppy with the minor god Hypnos, the god of sleep, so I guess the opium obtained from the poppy was associated with his twin brother, Morpheus, the god of dreams. Before I came to Pakistan, I thought poppies would still be cultivated, but I haven’t seen any poppy fields and there doesn’t seem to be a social problem involving the use of morphine, although heroin is a different matter. Poppy seeds contain little if any trace of narcotics, despite the fact that the plant they come from is the same one that provides us with codeine and morphine.
Traditionally poppy seeds are used in medicine on the Indian subcontinent. They are cooked with green cardamoms and sugar to treat diarrhea, and extract from the poppy plant are used to reduce fevers, help with liver complaints and treat TB.
In Pakistan poppy seeds, or Kash-Kash as they are called, are used ground to thicken sauces and in refreshing drinks. They are also sometimes added to rice dishes to give a different flavour. One of the popular drinks is Serdai, which can be made with milk or water.
1 litre milk or water
30 gr blanched almonds
50 gr poppy seeds
4 green cardamoms, seeds removed and husks discarded
6 black peppercorns
sugar to taste
Grind the poppy seeds very well. Then grind the cardamom seeds and almond
Put the black peppercorns, sugar and milk or water into a pan and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat, put all the ingredients except ice in it and leave to cool.
Serve chilled, with ice.