What my friends Oscar and Tom cooked their Indian hosts for dinner last night!

Dinner was the usual chapattis and masala and I can’t complain, it’s free food for christs sake, but there definitely isn’t the variation we’re used to. I said absolutely nothing but Menaka’s obviously got a good antennae for that sort of thing so she gently twisted the conversation onto the sort of thing we liked to cook and eat in England. We both agreed that it’s mostly Italian food that we actually eat – lots of pizza and pasta – and she was delighted to hear it. It’s very fashionable to have some Western recipes in your arsenal if you’re an Indian so she suggested that we cook a pasta dish for dinner this evening (gulp).

After work we mulled over our very small back-catalogue of dishes as we had a look around the streets in the east of Safdarjung Enclave – the place felt like what I guess a comfortable Indian suburb should feel like: rows of cubic, multi-storied houses with po-faced grandmothers staring down from their balconies; cleaner streets with less sleeping dogs and more children standing around with their bicycles and plenty of men sitting on plastic chairs in or around their shops. No one seemed to phased, excited or even interested in us two strangers wandering about aimlessly, Menaka wasn’t surprised to hear this:

“They’re all too busy making money and telling each other about it” to take notice of two pale teenagers. And why should they?

We eventually found a grocers with the spinach, garlic, tomato and mozzarella we were after for out Italian masterpiece but before we could pay Menaka had turned up and whipped out her wallet. The thought of us two walking around unattended alarmed her so much that she had rushed out to meet us after I had answered her call, arriving in the time it had taken us to pick our vegetables. She refused to let us pay for anything and it didn’t seem like a battle worth fighting. I had no idea how she was going to control her motherly instincts when we began cooking in the cramped kitchen. It turns out the kitchen isn’t her domain at all, but the housekeeper’s, who watched over us with a nervous grin as Tom bustled about with spaghetti and I concocted an indefinable sauce. The final product was alright, just dry and lacked the punch the Indians would be used to. Once it was dished up, Puran pulled it around his plate inquisitively, called for more salt and wolfed it down quietly – deep in thought. Menaka and Tanya politely enjoyed it but we all knew it was nothing remotely special. Puran’s right-hand began slowly rotating his glass of Virgin Mary (now a firm favourite) and all of a sudden he stood up with it and poured a little onto my half-empty plate. The tomato juice and tobasco cocktail was exactly what our rather limp dish needed and it instantly tasted almost delicious. Puran smirked behind his bushy moustache and that was that.

He joined us on our dark walk home, supposedly to get some bread but I suspect this was more of Menaka’s maternalism. On our way we walked past a man sitting cross-legged on top of a bedside table, preparing on another bedside table in front of him small packages of about 10 different ingredients (vivid sauces and sweet chutneys mostly) wrapping them in two oval green leaves. Puran explained that they were known as ‘pan’ and the morsels were chewed slowly to aid digestion.

The tastes and textures were bewildering but not unpleasant: sweet and floral. Puran’s company meant no beer, we still couldn’t gauge how he felt about alcohol and weren’t prepared to find out and potentially embarrass such a nice guy, but that didn’t make The Hangover any less funny.

Previous dinner posts from Peter

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