13 Ways of Looking at an Onion

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I

In a pickle. A dusty jar sitting on a fish and chip shop counter in East London.

At some point, onions met malt vinegar and contributed to two of Britain’s best loved dishes: fish & chips and the ploughman’s lunch.

II

Despite living in the second biggest onion-growing nation in the world, many people in India do not eat onions because they are classified as rajasic and tamasic in Ayurveda medicine. They encourage greed, passion, anger, laziness, criminal impulses, sensuality, ignorance and jealousy.

III

About 3 out of every hundred people are allergic to onions. Symptoms include asthma, fainting, hives, swelling, puffy eyes, painful skin ulcers and anaphylactic shock.

IV

Dry it, crush it, take it with a grain of salt

You know even vampires can get frightened

But most things are just better with garlic

V

In 2002, the Japanese Dermatological Association published a paper from two Iraqi scientists proving that onion juice, if regularly applied to areas of hair loss, significantly encourages hair regrowth. It has since become a common natural remedy for alopecia.

VI

People often ask me, ‘What’s a famous dish from New Zealand?’

Since I can’t afford to buy New Zealand lamb, I usually say kiwi onion dip:

One can of Nestle Reduced Cream mixed with one dry sachet of Maggi Onion Soup Mix, left to chill in the fridge for half an hour..

It’s so popular in New Zealand that the country’s biggest chip company, Bluebird, sell a packet of potato chips called ‘Classic Kiwi Onion Dip’. Yes, a potato-chip-dip-flavoured potato chip.

VII

Dennis Coles, better known as Ghostface Killah, uses the adjective ‘onionhead’ in the song ‘Poisonous Darts’ from his debut solo album, Ironman. This is said to denote cocaine addicts, since ‘onion’ can be slang for cocaine.

‘Onionhead’ is also an old US army term to refer to a new recruit. It’s in reference to the crew cut soldiers receive during basic training.

VIII

More onions are eaten in Libya than any other country. According to the United Nations, Libyans eat almost 35 kg of onions per person, per year. The global average is around 6 kg.

IX

In the mid-19th century a French onion grower in Roscoff, Brittany, realised he could get more profit on his pink onions if he took them to sell in Britain.

By the late 1920s there were over 1,000 of these so-called ‘Onion Johnnies’ (Breton men on bicycles, laden with neatly tied strings of pink onions, typically wearing striped shirts and berets) selling nearly 10,000 tonnes of onions in the UK every year.

The number of Onion Johnnies in Britain fell sharply after WWII, though their legacy may be the entrenched stereotype of French people: riding bicycles, wearing striped shirts and berets.

And smelling of onion, some say.

X

The Bloomin’ Onion is an appetizer featuring a whole white onion, cut to open in outward-pointing fingers like a blooming flower, then battered and deep fried.

The version from American chain restaurant Chilli’s was named “Worst Appetizer in America” by Men’s Health Magazine in 2008, who claimed it contained as much fat as 67 strips of bacon.

XI

By the time Victorian Egyptologist Edward Ayrton re-excavated the tomb of Ramses IV in the Valley of the Kings, he was far too late to reap anything of value. Unless you count remnants of onions, which had been placed on the ancient Pharaoh’s eyes when he was mummified.

XII

In 2015, Alastair Findlay claimed that after 20 seasons of selective breeding he had finally developed a variety of red onion that does not cause people to cry. Bad news for the likes of Eddingtons, whose range of different coloured and styled ‘Onion Goggles’ can retail for over €30.

XIII

Ogres are like onions!

They stink?

Yes… No!

They make you cry?

NO! Layers. Onions have layers. Ogres have layers… You get it?

- Shrek and Donkey. From the film Shrek.

This series is inspired by Wallace Stevens’ Thirteen Ways of looking at a Blackbird. David McKenzie looks every month at the most normal food you can imagine and offers a fresh view on it. In thirteen different ways.

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