Did you know that there are over two dozen ways to prepare lentils? That’s good, because +1 for Mike is eating mostly vegetables for the next six weeks. The lack of meat has been one of the biggest cultural differences I face every four hours. The Indian Institute of Astrophysics, where my wife is working this summer, has a cafeteria which offers great (and cheap!) meals. But by tradition and economic necessity, meat is only included as a special option on Wednesdays. So far, I’ve tried meat dishes on two different occasions. Once at an upscale “Asian” café, and another on a Pizza Hut pizza (don’t judge me). Both experiences were startling in their own right.
The Asian Café Experience
We had to register with the local police to validate our visas, and having played DMV Bangalore edition all morning, we decided lunch was in order. Our host suggested a café that served a variety of curries and soups. The car we had hired for the day drove us about a mile to a very clean, white tiled restaurant. The doorman welcomed us in and we had a whole team of servers asking us what we would like. Since lunch was taking place around 2pm and my stomach had made two attempts to eat my liver, I would need at least half a plate of food to switch my status to “ravenous.” The buffet-style line had no labels but many options, so I chose a four-item combo with what appeared to be chicken tikki masala, kidney bean curry, fried cauliflower, and naan. Grabbing a bottle of water, I dashed to the table and tucked in to a much anticipated meaty treat.
Only to find sharp bones!
It was agony; an empty belly, tender marinated chicken in my mouth along with a short sword and a dagger. My mind raced: what is the most culturally sensitive way to expel the bone from my mouth without using my one and only reserved-for-rich-westerners napkin? Could I eat the bone without a hemorrhage?
The staff psychic came over with a small basket of napkins and the situation was resolved. Very little meat was consumed, but the sauce was tasty.
Satiated with veggies and naan, we went back for round 2 of DMV Bangalore edition…but the meat craving returned a few days later…
We were three quarters of the way through our cycle of 24 lentil dishes when the craving struck. It’s that feeling you get when you’ve been good for so long and just want to wolf down the most calorie-laden thing you can get your hands on. My wife and I were talking with the other US grad student in her program, and the word “pizza” came up. The next ten minutes were the most hunger-inducing of the trip. Discussions of cheese types, optimal topping ratios, and the definition of “deep dish” ensued. We needed to acquire the staple of the American college student for dinner that night.
I’m working remotely until 7:30pm or so when the wife walks in with “Did you get my email?”
“No, I was working.”
“We’re getting pizza! Let’s order some tastiness.”
She and the other grad student had put together a whole order of Pizza Hut’s most bad-for-you food, Indian style. We ordered a Chicken Tikka Makhani and Paneer El Rancho (I did not make that up) along with cheesy garlic bread and pasta. The Paneer El Rancho is just like it sounds: a confused Mexican, Indian, and Italian trifecta of awesome.
The man on the phone assured me I had made a smart choice, complimented me on my wisdom, and told me how wonderful I am. Pizza Hut America: this is how things should be done. When I order a pizza and people know I’m a smart man for doing so, I’m probably going to order again. Because who doesn’t like being told they’re amazing for figuring out how to work a phone and asking someone to bring you food?
We wait a while when the phone rings. It’s the Pizza Hut folks confirming our address and letting us know that they were heading out. I was complimented for my patience and wisdom.
The delivery man arrives and then I realize why I got so many compliments; the meal was over 1000 rupees. Now, for context: in Zelda, this money could buy you a magical suit of armor. In India, this could buy a week’s worth of food. In America, it would buy you two medium pizzas and a side of pasta.
Hauling our treasure trove of pizza back to the room, we proceed to “U.S. it up” with a Stargate episode. The food didn’t last fifteen minutes.
It was amazing. And, there weren’t any bones.
More adventures to come!
+1 for Mike