Jun 1, 2008

Eating India

As we sit down at the small Ram Raja Restaurant in the town of Orchha, a man herds his fifteen water buffalo over the adjacent bridge for a refreshing bath. The sign for the restaurant proudly reads: “Recommended by Lonely Planet”. The traveler’s bible is omnipresent. We glance at the small menu where nothing costs much more than $1. A family of about 10 noisily awakes themselves in the morning hours behind the curtain separating the street from the kitchen. We finally decide to order: Shak Shuka, an egg dish with cabbage and onions, toast and chai tea. Five minutes later a man emerges from the curtain, starts his Honda bike and motors off. After a few more moments a young boy runs towards the market, 20 rupees in hand. The tea arrives after only ten minutes. The Indians love their Masala Tea. Known as Chai to us westerners, it’s the perfect blend of spice, milk, and sugar, served in a tall glass. As we sip tea two SUV’s packed with one family arrives. They file out and head towards the restaurant. Their shotgun-armed bodyguard looking like a drunken frat boy who spent the night binge drinking follows them. They sit in a half circle of chairs in the street staring at Amanda and I center stage at our raised table.
They stare, talk about us in Hindi, and stare some more. Their tea comes out and they sip it and stare. Awkward. Finally the father convinces his son to talk to us.

“Hello, from what country?”
“USA” we reply, “Where are you from?”
“I am twelve, you my home like?”
“What?” this conversation isn’t going too far. “Is this your family?” We warily continue.
“Yes, my father, 4 sisters, uncle, two brothers, drunken, shotgun-wielding driver.” The conversation is back on track.

Just then the man on the motorcycle returns with a crate full of vegetables. We ordered 30 minutes ago and the ingredients have just arrived. At least we know they’re fresh.
The family returns to their stares and we return to our Lonely Planet. While traveling, meal times are always a great time to plan your next move. A few minutes later the other boy returns from the market with no cabbage. His father, not too pleased, sends him running back from where he came. Then a twelve year old boy emerges from the kitchen speaking perfect English to us. His brother went to buy cabbage for our meal he explains. We smile and order more tea. Then about 8 young kids run off the street through the curtain. Two minutes later, 4 different children emerge and run down the street.

The large family stands up, pays, and wanders up the road. Their body guard, who has been stroking his shotgun for the past half hour, puts it in the truck and sits back down. Families only need guarding while they’re eating.

There is a constant flow of tractors pulling water tanks. They return from the river full and cross the bridge empty. The electricity goes out, killing the Indian music and giving us a sudden silence. It is rare that electricity does not go out in most cities around here. After about 70 minutes I finally get antsy and ask the man who went to the market if the boy returned with the cabbage yet. He smiles, nods and slips behind the curtain. Twenty seconds later he returns with our meals. We devour it, taking note to avoid the butter with dead mosquitoes in it. It is delicious but there is no cabbage. We pay our bill: $2.38, and pray to the Ganesh poster on the wall that we won’t spend the next three hours in the bathroom. It’s now 8:30 AM and India is waking up. Nothing is ever as it seems in India. It truly rewards those with patience.

After breakfast we hired our guide (pictured left, photo by leighton) for the rest of India. He's not very good with the train schedules but he always leads us to the good restaurants.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

what made you decide to avoid the butter? and i like that after all that you didn't get cabbage;-)