Monday, February 10, 2014

You Should Only Eat What You Don't Understand

Birthright afforded me one of the most humbling privileges: a going away dinner. And while it took all of my pride to accept, I was little more than touched and motivated to be as considerate as possible when choosing a locale.

I often associate food with pangs, and there are innumerable places I’ve eaten at that I’ve never written about because who I ate with was just too painful. Love and food, depending on context, can be a remarkable thing. When I’m a more centred man, maybe I’ll tell you all those stories.

So while it seemed I was considering the preferences of my beloved family, my chophouse of choice was charged with my own voluptuous stirrings for the person who recommended it so long ago. I had never visited it, but felt now was a convenient opportunity, since its cuisine appealed to my family, and, in a strange Borgesian way, managed itself as a conduit for my yearnings of some beautiful interloper. I guess I’m not as altruistic as I think I am, just appropriately opportunistic.

I say this because as I’ve said many times in the past, Indian cuisine is an alien foodscape for my poor palate. Yes, even still today. But Bollywood Bistro was more than a safe bet for me. Some woman I’m smitten over loves it, my family likes Indian food, and, subsequently, it offers Hakka cuisine, an interesting culinary creation that happened as a result of Chinese occupancy in India at some point in history. Sadly, the Hakka choices seemed less than stellar for my familiar self. That said, I couldn’t know any preparation without trying it, but felt the situation warranted not necessarily playing it safe. Instead, and being absolutely out of my element with such a generous menu, I humbly requested my brother-in-law, familiar with the cuisine all his life, to do the choosing. It was only a matter of time before our table was a deluge of cuisine, emblematic samosas, fish fritters, chicken tikka, lamb seekh, butter chicken, methi lamb, and the lightest, softest, most lightly crisp garlic naan I’d ever had the luxury of sinking my teeth into. So buttery and warm in fact, lobster wouldn’t have even been a better substitute.

But before all that, we were welcomed with dipping sauces and crisp flat bread. A bright, glowing cilantro sauce of yoghurt, lemon, and the leaf was hard to stay away from; I’d have happily drank it on its own. Then again, every single sauce, dal, mash, and paste could have been left alone without any accompanying meat. I left that kind of stuff for my family, my naan was the only meat I wanted. But what kind of eater would I have been if I didn’t at least give everything a try.

Packed with potato, peas, and dry spices, our light crusted samosas were the perfect excuse for more dipping, the bright buzzing cilantro sauce quenching against the pastries’ spicy chilli stuffing. And the fish pakora, yet another reason; though the tender, moist, light white fish could have easily been finished alone, its frittered flesh loaded with cumin spice.

Now, I know nothing about butter chicken, as much as I’ve heard about it all my life. Still, my sister and brother-in-law would have liked a little heat, but my na├»ve tongue had no problem with the balmy tomato, cashew, buttercream sauce. And our smorgasbord of marinated meats gave us no reason to complain. Deeply coloured lambs, and warmly seasoned poultry piled on a medley of pickled onions and cabbage paid perfect homage to the warm reds, yellows, and oranges of the decorated walls and Rajastani doorways. If I were any more versed, I’m sure I would have appreciated every morsel even more; still, I was floored by so many flavours, especially by lamb that was rubbed with heady amounts of coriander.

But even after all that, our prized choice of the night had to have been our methi chicken. A lentil paste stewed with fierce fenugreek and cilantro made every one of us more than happy to give up the chunks of chicken inside to each other if it meant smothering our bread with the stuff.


By the end, full, heavily spiced stomachs anchored us to our seats, but in no time, our palates were upheaved by the meal’s ending: a spice bowl of fenugreek seeds, anise, and candies. At first it took me a minute to understand: it was the oldest kind of after dinner mints, and its medley of seeds woke us out of our full, satisfied states. We were warmed, and well on our way, and I was wondering when I’d be lucky enough to come back, and with whom? 

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