Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Lunch, Pakistani-Afghani Style

Yesterday I learned that the spices you eat can darken or lighten your skin.

Allow me to explain. I went to lunch with an adventurous friend who was up for trying an Afghani place I hadn’t been to for at least a year. The owner, an exceedingly tall guy whose parentage is half-Pakistani, half-Afghani, was an intermittent presence at our table. He helpfully suggested various dishes (take his advice as I did and get the lamb biryani, it’s fabulous) and playfully cajoled us into trying their special yogurt sauce. It’s ordinarily just for the staff, but after tasting it, I did my best to playfully cajole him into adding it to the menu.

I asked about the spice mix on the kebobs, and he started telling me about the two options (one just tasty, one fiery and tasty) but then took a sharp left turn into the topic of skin-darkening spices. He listed off countries with spicy food (Pakistan, India) that have darker-skinned people and countries with less spicy food (Afghanistan, most notably) that have lighter-skinned people. He said a lot of people don’t realize the connection, but it’s true.

Then we moved on to the topic of the cheesecake that he’d put together that we had to try. When I asked if he could take our order, he put in a final plug for the cheesecake and said he’d send the waitress over.

This morning when I Googled “skin-darkening spices” I only found links about how to lighten dark skin. When I Googled “light skin spices” I found the same kinds of links. This is not shocking, given the cultural value placed on light skin in many cultures, but it’s still sad. It also reminds me of when I asked someone, during our trip to India last year, whether the skin-lightening creams I saw everywhere actually work.

Her face definitely darkened when she said she’d tried them, but they don’t do anything.


  1. there are surgeries to lighten skin in Korea or Japan, I think - the Times ran articles on it a year or so back.

  2. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/14/world/asia/14thailand.html?_r=1&scp=2&sq=surgery%20white%20skin%20asia&st=cse

  3. Thanks for the link to the NY Times article, K. It reminded me that arsenic used to be the skin-lightening agent of choice during the Victorian era. And since it accumulates slowly in the system, it killed as it lightened.


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