Wish India would have restaurants that serve authentic cuisines? Beware, your wishes may actually come true…
Restaurants serving authentic foreign cuisines have become quite a rage off late. Ok, South Indians who wish to inform me of an authentic Chinese dish they have had for the past 20 years, pay attention – Gobi ka Paratha is not a Gobi Desert specialty! The North Indians have been pulling a fast one on you – Gobi = cauliflower.
So, how do you know you have served an authentic dish or not? It’s very easy, actually. If the dish tastes funny at the first bite it is authentic. If it tastes funny even on the second bite then the cuisine doesn’t suit you, or the dish was prepared 15 days ago. In either case it’s time to bolt.
Tasting authentic food can sometime cause a paradigm change that’s not altogether pleasant as I found out one sweaty evening. It all started with my friend’s insistence we go to Mainland China. I thought it was a good idea too. I loved Chinese food (this is before the paradigm change), and moreover my friend was going to pay the bill. Chalo Mainland China I said with gusto.
Now, I have to admit, this friend of mine – let’s call her R – does have a tongue for cuisines (I promised she would be the heroine in this article). She can pronounce Ratatouille without batting her eyelid. In case you were wondering, it is pronounced Ra-ta-tu-eee (I think). Yeah, she leaves even the waiters flustered. I, on the other hand, refer to such dishes as No. 17, Page No. 4. The waiter understands exactly what I want.
Back to Mainland China, then. The waiter first asked us if we would like to have Chinese tea. “Is it free?”, I asked.
Bring it on then, baby!
I don’t know how boiling Jasmine petals in water qualifies as tea? But it was not bad. I felt Soya Sauce would go well with the tea. But R didn’t think so. And when R doesn’t think so, you better think so too. It was soon time to order the soup.
I was flummoxed – where was the Manchurian soup? Wait a minute did Manchuria break away from China? Is there a restaurant that specializes in Manchurian cuisine in Bombay? Can we go there right now? Who is the President of Manchuria? More importantly how is Hu taking it?
R in the meantime recommended the Veg Sichuan Hot & Sour Soup. I gladly obliged. It started off well. Suddenly I bit into something which tasted funny (Ah! authentic food). Bite no. 2: funny, again. I turned to my other friend, “Is caterpillar classified as ‘Veg’ in China?” R had overheard and glared at me. The caterpillars, thereafter, slid in quickly down my throat. Ditto the starters.
It was time for the main course. “American Chopsuey”, I pleaded. R, however, felt we should go in for vegetables and rice (American Chopsuey was not on the menu as well). My face fell. The rice she ordered was to be wrapped in a Lotus leaf. My palms started sweating. Seeing this R said irritably, “You know, a lot of people eat rice wrapped in Lotus leaves!” “Like who, the Chinese? Yeah, they do have the largest population in the world”, I shot back. My other friend started chuckling. R slipped into a dignified silence and took her revenge while ordering the two vegetables: Four Treasure in Spicy Hunan Sauce (ok, that sounded interesting), and Poached Bokchoy & Black Mushrooms.
Me: Wait a minute… Bokchoy? I am vegetarian. I can’t have that
R: Shut up, I am vegetarian too
(Other friend starts laughing)
Me: They poach vegetables in China? I thought you could do that only to animals. In any case, I am a Gandhian and refuse to have anything that has been poached
Waiter: Poached Bokchoy means Bokchoy that’s cooked in boiling water.
R looked triumphant. This was overkill. What was this, an authentic British cuisine restaurant!? And they say that the only advantage the Indians hold over the Chinese is their English. I ate the rest of the dinner silently without making a face; yes, even the caterpillars (they came with the Bokchoy). R lorded over the proceedings thereafter.
Dinner ended. I wasn’t displeased. In fact, I was slightly elated. R left soon afterward citing some office work. I suspected the caterpillars were at work (I felt a rumbling in the stomach myself).
“Wanna have Manchurian soup some place else?”, the other friend asked sympathetically. I nodded eagerly. Nothing like authentic Indian Chinese to kill them damn caterpillars!
– R was right after all. The soup was purely vegetarian. What I thought caterpillars, were Black Mushrooms.
This article appears in the latest issue (May1 – 15) of Just Another Magazine