Mystery Meat in Sara Suleri's Meatless Days

Thuy Nguyen '05, English 171, Sages, Satirists, and New Journalists Brown University, 2003

"Food certainly gave us a way not simply of ordering a week or a day but of living inside history, measuring everything we remembered against a chronology of cooks." Sara Suleri establishes this connection between food and history through her childhood stories of goat's head, kidneys and cauliflower. Her experience of meatless days in Pakistan provides a structural glue for the history of her family and also the history of her native country. In addition to being a medium for story-telling, food also allows Suleri to question truth in her past, especially regarding her relationship with her mom and the substances she put in her own body. One dish that constantly come up is kapura.

"Sara," said Tillat, her voice deep with the promise of surprise, "do you know what kapura are?" I was cooking and a little cross. "Of course I do," I answered with some affront. "They're sweetbreads, and they're cooked with kidneys, and they're very good." Natives should always be natives, exactly what they are, and I felt irked to be so probed around the issue of my own nativity. But Tillat's face was kindly with superior knowledge. "Not sweetbread," she gently said. "They're testicles, that's what kapura really are." Of course I refused to believe her, went on cooking, and that was the end of that. [p. 22]

Unable to believe her sister, Suleri inquires into the exact ingredients of kapura from her Pakistani companions.

Accordingly, even though I was made to feel that it was wrong to strip a food of its sauce and put it back into its bodily belonging, I certainly received an unequivocal response: kapura, as naked meat, equals a testicle. Better, it is tantamount to a testicle neatly sliced into halves, just as we make no bones about asking the butcher to split chicken breasts in two. "But," and here I rummaged for the sweet realm of nomenclature, "couldn't kapura on a lazy occasion also accommodate something like sweetbreads, which is just a nice way of saying that pancreas is not a pleasant word to eat?" No one, however, was interested in this finesse. "Balls, darling, balls," someone drawled, and I knew I had to let go of the subject.


1. Why do you think Suleri is so hesitant to believe the true component of kapura? What do you think it represents to her outside of being a dish from her native country?

2. The shock from the truth made the author reflect on her "sweetbread" relationship with her mother. She asks the question, "what else have I eaten on her behalf?" What do you think is the implication here in relation to the connection between truth and the body?

3. Although Suleri mentioned letting go of the subject in the passage above, kapura keeps reappearing in her later stories. What do you think is her purpose of repeating this subject?

4. Can we apply this story of truth and its lessons to the larger history of Pakistan?

Main Screen Pakistan Sara Suleri Meatless Days Leading Questions

Last modified 3 May 2005