Sangaray Or Water Chestnuts Are Used As Medicine in Pakistan

Now the monsoon season is over and the flood waters are receding here in Pakistan, there has been a tremendous amount of devastation. In the local bazaar the price of chicken has plummeted, because poultry farmers are desperate to sell their birds because the buildings which housed them have been destroyed in the floods. This is good news for the consumer at the present time, but the flip side is that the price of eggs has gone through the roof.

We now have bright red carrots in the bazaar and my husband came home with water chestnuts when he went to the old Raja Bazaar earlier this week. These are called ‘sangaray‘ here and although Pakistani cuisine doesn’t seem to include them as do cuisines of South-East Asia, they are used in medicine.

If you’ve never eaten fresh water chestnuts you may wonder why they have this name as what do tuberous roots of a water plant have in common with a nut? The answer is – the taste. Some of these sangaray taste like chestnuts that have been roasted on a brazier; others have a more floral taste. Whichever variety I have eaten here though, have tasted very different to the canned ones I used in Europe.

In Pakistan these water chestnuts are often powdered and used to make roti (chapattis) and the water left after boiling them is mixed with a few water chestnuts, liquidized and given to children suffering from measles. They say that sangaray have cooling properties and so are good for heatstroke and fevers. The powdered water chestnuts mixed with milk or water is said to be good for urinary tract infections such as cystitis, and the juice from these edible roots is used to cure indigestion and nausea.

They look a lot like mouth-watering chocolates in their hard shell casing and need to be boiled until the shell is softer. I eat then fresh from their shells which may be why I think they are like roast chestnuts which are found on street corners in Portugal, and Greece at this time of year.

Unfortunately in this part of the Punjab (Islamabad/Rawalpindi) we can’t find these in our local bazaar. The vegetable seller asked my husband how to cook them, so they are not as widely relished here we suspect as they are in the southern Punjab around Lahore. There the water chestnut season is eagerly awaited and it is said that they will cure any fevers that occur after the monsoon. Touch wood I haven’t had one yet, but it is good to know that a delicious cure is at hand.