It was my first time here. At the counter, I'd ordered, firstly, curd rice. The attendant smiled but I couldn't understand it. Was it an approval of my choice? Or did I just order something regrettable? Next, a side dish. There were a few rare, interesting titles but I wanted comfort food that evening, so I asked for saag panir. None of those smiles or nods this time. In fact, I could feel her slight reluctance to input my order. She did, eventually.
I sat at a nearby table and waited eagerly for my curd rice. I really can't remember the last time I had it. It must have been a year ago. Or longer, even. On a hot and humid evening, the thought of creamy, cold, sourish rice spiced with mustard seeds, ginger, coriander leaves, onions and chillies was very, very enticing.
A smartly dressed man, perhaps in his early sixties, approached my table and introduced himself as the cook. He asked to confirm my order of both the curd rice and saag panir. Politely, he suggested that the combination might be too heavy and proposed that I consider replacing the saag panir with gobi Manchurian.
I've always prided myself for being knowledgeable in Indian cuisine and never had I been challenged this way. My credibility was at stake. I imagined my friends and neighbours from Sentul looking really disappointed with some gesturing the loser sign. And by recommending something with a Manchurian sauce was definitely rubbing salt to the wound. Here's the funny part - momentarily stunned AND confused, I'd somehow agreed to that change.
There's a lesson to be learnt here - that the ego has to be bruised to gravitate one down to earth again. The gobi Manchurian worked really well the curd rice. A sweet sauce like that provides a wonderful balance to the sourness of the curd. Such common sense that I'd failed to see! Imagine if I'd insisted on my saag panir. The richness of both sauces would have been too much to handle. So, thank you, uncle, for making the effort to enlighten this lost child. I shall be back to seek more wisdom and of course, your delicious vegetarian food.