Since coming to Bangalore, I have been underwhelmed by the food that I have eaten at the restaurants that I’ve chosen (with the exception of K.C. Das Sweets, which isn’t really a restaurant). The Grand McGrath hotel serves an adequate breakfast buffet (The fresh fruit is quite good), but going for dinner one night was an introduction to rubbery and unimaginative dishes. A coffee from a chain called “Coffee Days” proved that some places here think that warm brown water is suitable for consumption by the general public. Incidentally, there is more “Coffee Days” franchises here than there are McDonalds in Manhattan. On a short walk down Brigade Road to M.G. Road, I counted fourteen “Coffee Days”.
I did find an independent coffee house called Matteo Coffea that serves a really good cafe americano (albeit small) but I had yet to sample the scrumptious food that Bangalore is supposedly famous for.
That all changed a few nights ago…
One of the restaurants on Residency road that kind of popped out from the street was a joint called Nagarjuna (which I think means Shining Snake). A few things made it pop out: it had a well kept up store front, it was clean, it was very busy, and it reviewed well on several websites (although I’ve been burned by web reviews before, the Grand McGrath restaurant which is called 30 Grand has a 4 star average on trip advisor, and it should have a 4 bland average).
Upon entering the restaurant, through the door that is held open by a very nice man with a really big sword, I notice that there are about fifteen people waiting for take out (another good sign). While being directed to a table near the entrance, I can see that the place is full, very active with conversation, and smells like yummy. A menu is handed to me and I’m given the option of bottled water, which I take.
There are only two pages with a variety of vegetarian and non-vegetarian options (over here it’s called veg and non-veg and is marked by a green circle in a square or a red one respectively) and I choose the Veg Biryani, and some Gobi Peppers. The waiter says “those both come with (insert a side dish name in Kannada that I didn’t understand at all). I just nod yes and say OK. The waiter gives me the Indian head bob (which will be the subject of another post) and leaves with the “oh great, a western idiot who doesn’t know anything” look on his face as a litre bottle of water appears from the water guy.
There is a very large green banana leaf on the table in front of me which is unfolded to the size of a large placemat by a guy with various condiments in a set of serving dishes. He plops down about a 1/4 cup of a yellow paste, 1/2 cup of a chunky salsa looking concoction, and a cup of what looks like a colourful looking curry. He also sets down a fork and a spoon.
Here is where a little bit of knowledge and foresight to research some things before I made this trip came in handy. As soon as I saw the banana leaf, I knew exactly what to do. I set the spoon and fork to the side, and scooped up some of the salsa stuff with my right hand, mixed in a little of the curry stuff, and picked the mixture up with all of my fingers and thumb in a claw like motion, and slurped it into my mouth. The smile that appeared on condiment guys face was beaming and the attitudes of the staff improved immediately.
The yellow paste turned out to be a nice Indian pickle, the salsa stuff a rice and tomato mixture and together with the vegetable curry was one of the most amazing flavour sensations that I have ever had. It was about four alarm spicy, but it was also so good with bits of chili peppers, okra, carrots and various other vegetables in a spice mixture that was out of this world. There was also a cup of Kurrd, but unlike the Nepalese version, this was more like liquid cheese.
I cleaned my leaf off in seconds, stopping short of licking the greenery, just as my biryani and gobi peppers arrived from waiter guy, who now also supported an ear to ear grin. Condiment guy then asks “More?”, and I exclaim “Yes please!”, although I was thinking “Leave the serving trays, run to the kitchen, and tell them to make some more!”
The entire time that I’m eating with my hands, I sort of feel like saying “ga ga goo goo pbbbbbt” and dumping some of it on my head while sitting in a high chair. But there is a very interesting sensation that happens while touching our sustenance. It seems to foster a deeper relationship with our food that I think is lost when eating with utensils. It’s also more hygienic as long as your hands are clean.
I was so enthralled with the dining experience, that I didn’t notice all of the staff that were gathered around the table and smiling while watching me eat. Rice guy, condiment guy, the waiter, the manager, the dishwasher, condiment guy’s brother in law, and some guy off of the street named Gunther were just smiling and nodding at me while rice and curry dribbled down my chin.
“Where are you from sir?”
:a series of head bobs: “Do all Canada people know how to eat in this manner?”
“No, the snowsuits get in the way”
I think that they were just pleased that a westerner was eating in this manner. But because I didn’t know what half of the stuff was that I was eating, it could have just as easily been that I was making a fool of myself.
Imagine some one sitting in a burger joint, and drinking a jar of mustard like a soft drink and eating the napkin. One of the really tasty things that I was shoveling into my gob could have been the equivalent of the mustard.
When I was finally finished, the waiter brought a small bowl of lemon soup and the bill for about 300 rupees ($6). After the waiter informed me that it was a finger bowl and not lemon soup, I paid the man with a healthy tip, and exited the establishment, full of a foreign mustard with curry in my hair.