Monthly Archives: April 2012
The taste of India
The entrance was a dark, cavernous hole sandwiched between a grocery store and a plastic ware stall. We walked in, past the burly, moustached prosperous-in-the-middle man seated behind the counter. A host of gods and goddesses hung on the wall behind him, while he himself was enveloped in the fragrant haze of half a dozen agarbattis that stood on a shelf near the statue of a beautifully carved Ganpati. We walked through the narrow aisle between two rows of narrow tables and narrower benches. The lone ceiling fan whirred nosily drowning out the din outside. Even at that early hour in the morning, we could find only one vacant table, of the four that the place boasted of.
At the far end, not very far from where we sat, stood a man, freshly brewing tea in a huge hindoleum vessel. The sharp aroma of ginger and cardamom filled the crammed interiors.
“Do cutting,” shouted the man behind the counter holding out two fingers.
We loved it. The minimalist ambience, the practicality of the place, the no-fuss-no-frill waiters. Images from college life fleeted in front of us. When we would tire of the college katta, we would trek to the nearest Ram Bharose tea stall…not very different from the one we were sitting in now.
There are some days when we get bitten by the crazy, mad bug. Today was one such morning for us. Sunil said, “Let’s do breakfast college style. I was game! And, that’s how we found ourselves here.
“Kya lenge?” cut in the waiter’s matter-of-fact voice.
He was dressed for the job…khaki shorts, a once-upon-a-time white banyan, a checked cotton napkin hanging down his shoulder. I felt over dressed in my jogging pants and Tee.
We have had this unwritten understanding between us for years – first thing to be ordered always is the ubiquitous, nil wait-time, idli sambar…and while devouring this, we would place orders for the rest of the meal. This morning, too, we stuck to the same pattern…
“Sambar maarke?” the waiter asked.
“Han, han” we chorused.
You will agree that portions are generous in such eateries. The twin idlis came in huge wide bowls, swimming in a pool of steaming aromatic sambar. They were gigantic and soft, having soaked in the sambar. The accompanying coconut chutney was to die for. The display tickled our every sense. We couldn’t wait to get our teeth into it. But, we had to pass idle time to let it cool a bit. The fear of scalding our tongues…and I don’t need to tell you how taste buds die on a scalded tongue. We talked disinterestedly and pretended to listen to each other, all the time focussing on the bowls in front of us.
Sunil made the first move. I followed suit. Silence fell on us. We drowned ourselves in the delicacy.
“I haven’t eaten such good idli sambar in a long time,” Sunil said resurfacing from a now-empty bowl.
I nodded vigorously. My mouth was engaged in more serious activity.
“Want to eat something else?” Sunil was asking.
I nodded again.
Couldn’t decide whether the medu vada was better than the idli or if the chai that followed was the winner.
While we were occupied, I was mentally taking in the buzz of activity around us. A very old man had taken a seat across the aisle. He was obviously returning from his morning walk. No sooner had he sat than the waiter brought him a cup of coffee. A regular, I thought. He slurped it all up in one go, piping hot notwithstanding, pulled out a fiver and wobbled out leaning on his walking stick.
The owner was pinching off pieces of pav and throwing them at the dog that had strayed up to the counter. The dog wagged thank you, thank you as it gobbled up every piece. Another regular, I thought.
Half hour later we walked out, heavily contented and lighter by Rs. 75/- only!! We smiled at each other, a silent promise on our lips – we shall go down this path every once in a while…for where else can you have such close encounters with the melange of flavours that make up India, with a bit of crudeness thrown in, a generous portion of civility, garnished with the everyday living nuances of a commoner…and rustic romance for seasoning!!!