Bengali Warewolf in Dubai

I am a bit of an honorary Bengali. Don’t feel much Bengali, save 5 days out of 365; and that is during Durga Puja! And I am just about feeling the first winds of change in me. Like a handsome man turns into a werewolf – the ears elongate, the sinews stand out, incisors turn to fangs, hair grows all around – I was feeling a similar change reside in me.

I have been excited about the sweets my wife got me from Delhi! I am listening to the audio CD of Sukumar Ray‘s ‘Abol Tabol‘ – Bengali limericks he wrote for ‘Sondesh’. Remember a few, still! Yes, I don’t believe myself, right now!!

Despite the disguise, I secretly feel very proud when people say that Bengalis can hold on to a tune and that they know their music. I was proudly nodding my head as one of my non-Bong students was appreciating Bengali hospitality and also reminiscing the lusciousness of her first ‘rosho-golla’. It was happening to me for sure.

And tonight we went to a brand new Bengali (not Bangladeshi) restaurant in Sharjah. Wifey found about Calcutta Fast Food near Al Tawuun Mall. Not the best creative name one would expect from a Bong, but then the real test is only in the taste. I called the restaurant and was greeted by the most warm and elderly voice of a typical Bengali ‘Bhadralok‘ who gave me directions like my garrulous uncle would have. I was grinning as I indulged him!

courtesy Calcutta Fast Food

When there, that slice of a restaurant appealed to me. I really must be ill! What riveted my attention was a wall of classy black and white photographs. Uttam-Suchitra from ‘Shoptopodi’ bang in the centre! There – can you hear Hemanta Mukherjee faintly? “Ayi poth jodi na shesh hoye, tobey kemon hoto, tumi bolo toi?”
Tumiyi bolo!

Howrah Bridge, Vidyasagar SetuVictoria Memorial, dhoti-clad babu hanging from a tram like an orang-utan in a zoo and oh! They have egg role! You can’t beat the taste of that one. I ordered one and it didn’t disappoint me a bit. Mmmm! Perfect!

What followed next was a tastefully made Chicken Chaap in a thick, consistent gravy with a distinct aroma of saffron. A healthy piece of chicken breast was well wrapped in the saffron gravy. Gastro-erotica!!! Crispy porotha on the side. Meshomoshai (the Bong Uncle I spoke to) suggested we try that! It was fab! My wife was in raptures, going back to her ‘Bedouin days’ in Calcutta!

I loved watching the father-son duo running the joint. Son took the delivery orders. Dad handled the restaurant floor orders. They opened the restaurant end August. He is the only son. Was in banking earlier. Dad keeps visiting them from Kolkata. Gathering so much information was just not my style. What was wrong with me?

I was surrounding myself with everything Bengali. Oh! And the crispy, crumbly fish fry was ‘darun’. I suggest that the Bengali expression ‘darun’ be included into the English lexicon. And I could arrange a ‘michhil’ to prove my point as well!

I was worried with my new self. I looked at my wife, for she has answers when I don’t. I asked her what was wrong with me?

She took a bite of her fish fry and nonchalantly said,”With Pujo ’round the corner, you are just PMS-ing.”

On the Burp-o-meter: 3 burps!

Table Manners

I seem to have a perennial grouse with most South India food joints. Actually I have that grouse with almost all the South Indian joints I have visited, across India and in the UAE. The plating of the food and service at the table is lousy, rude and most un-appetising.

For starters, I never understood why my spoon would be dipped in the piping hot ‘sambhar’. So for the first few moments I am trying to blow my hot spoon down to a palatable temperature before doing the same with the ‘sambhar’. Why do they do that? I have no answer to that. From Delhi to Chennai, nobody knows.

Then, there are restaurants that put the innumerable bowls ON the dosa that you have ordered. Thank you so much, I don’t need a table mat with stuffing in it. Can I please have the dosa with the bowls BESIDES it and not on it? Why do they do that? I have no answer to that. From Delhi to Chennai, nobody knows.

I don’t remember a single Punjabi ‘dhaba’ that I have visited that dips spoons in chana masala or is tucked away under an oily ‘bhatura’. Nor do I remember them in a hurry that tearing that the belly of your dosa is ‘sambhar’-soggy and limp.

It is a culture thing? I don’t know. Truth is that it is most annoying the way South Indian food is served. No telling how delicious the food is, only if they improved their service. In all departments.

Let the waiters not ask you what you want with a nod akin to the autorickshaw-walla in Pahadganj.

Let the waiter not mumble the attributes of appams like he was talking in his sleep.

Let the spoons be treated with respect.

More importantly, let the food be treated with the respect it deserves.

Only if they achieve this, would I be able to enjoy my South Indian nosh without being coaxed a million times to eat at a restaurant, be it anywhere, Delhi, Chennai or Dubai.

Burps to remember food by!