Do you remember when I promised to tell you my odd remedy for a stomach bug? I’m sure you’ve been lying awake at night from curiosity. Wait no longer, friends. With reports of stomach bugs going around, I figure it’s a good time for my story. Grab your coffee — this one’s a doozy.
My remedy: parmesan cheese. Here’s why…
Years ago, I went on a humanitarian medical mission to Tbilisi, Georgia, with a team of Italian surgeons that I’d originally met in Mexico. We arranged the whole thing via cellphone as I was walking through banana plantations on my way to the beach on a Mediterranean island.
Still with me?
I met up with the surgeons in Milan and we flew through Turkey to Tbilisi. The Italians showed up late to the airport, carrying ten two-kilogram blocks of parmesan cheese to give out as presents, along with 30 boxes of medical supplies. I never thought we’d make it to Tbilisi but we did.
See, here’s me:
The hospital was crumbling to bits, the equipment sorely out-of-date. The days were intense, grueling, fascinating. We’d start at 6 a.m. and work at the hospital 9 or 10 at night. After that, a local physician or politician would take us out to a restaurant to say thank you with a slow, belly-busting meal of Georgian delicacies. We’d dally over a five-, six-, eight- course meal, which was interrupted repeatedly for long speeches and mandatory vodka shots. The whole thing would take place under a ceiling of blue cigarette smoke. We’d finally roll into bed at 1 or 2 in the morning.
After a nearly a week of this, I woke up in the middle of the night, sicker than I’d ever been in my life. I’ll spare you the gory details but it continued through the next day and next night. On my second full-day of being sick, the head of the mission — Gianluigi, a well-known laparoscopic surgeon — came to visit me, carrying a block of cheese bigger than my head. He told me that I should eat some parmesan cheese. I told him he was nuts; the word cheese made my stomach do dive-bombs.
He told me, in his fantastic Italian accent, that he always eats parmesan cheese with bread for stomach bugs. His theory, as I recall, was that parmesan (“parma-a-giana”) helps balance the intestinal flora in our gut. I was skeptical. But given a choice between going to the hospital for an IV and eating parmesan cheese on the hotel balcony, I choose cheese.
It was no cure but I started to come back to life. At the end of the trip, Gianluigi sent me back to Canada with two kilos of parmesan cheese. (Try explaining that at customs!)
I’ve looked online and found nothing to back up the parmesan cheese theory so don’t blame me if it doesn’t work for you. All I’m saying is every time I get a stomach bug, it’s parmesan cheese on toast for me. It’s like the Italian version of chicken noodle soup.
PS — Telling this story reminded me of how much I loved khachapuri. Any one who has ever been to Georgia has eaten this cheese pie, which the LA Times called the most elaborate grilled cheese sandwich on earth. Here’s a recipe with yummy photos. If you’ve never had, try. Now.