By Bikram Vohra
Every now and then people decide to go ‘exotic’ and enjoy something different for dinner. For most of us it is an adventure without any adventure in it. If we go for Thai we invariably order red curry, green curry or Khao Pad, which is just fried rice. Nobody orders Larb Leuat Neua (Raw Beef with Uncooked Blood) Mok Huak (Developing Tadpoles) or Larb Mote Daeng (Red Ants Eggs).
Now that would be blazing new trails in cuisine. We go for Mexican and settle for burritos and tacos and quesadillas with guacamole and salsa, and say Ole. Have we ever sort of said, you know what, let’s get off the beaten track and give Cabrito de Carne en su Jugo (goat in its juice) a shot? What about a helping of the popular escamoles, which are flying ants, beetles, larvae and grasshoppers…here have another.
My kids take us out for Italian. We get a chequered cloth covered table, olive oil, and us culinary tzars order spaghetti Bolognese and pasta and think we are living le dolce vita.
I have never gone beyond these items except for one breathtaking fling at Fettuccine Alfredo which is about the level of walking in a park as compared to scything through a rainforest in terms of sensational food exploits.
Have you ever dipped your breads into the oil and said, I shall have a starter of a songbird from Lombardy, followed by two dormice (stuffed mice with mince, so popular in Roma) with a side of Pani ca Meusa (Sicilian Spleen) and round it off with a serving of Casu Marzu (Sardinian maggot cheese)?
To us knights of the round table, Spanish food is tapas, and we think we are going wild with excitement. Guess what, we went out the other night and had tapas. What, and you didn’t eat Callos? (a tripe stew inspired by calluses like you get on your hands and feet) and some wriggling percebes live (goose barnacle crustaceans straight out of their shells)?
And then we go out for Chinese. Indian, American, Local, anything but what the Chinese eat.
It does not matter because you can second guess the order. Everyone will make a big thing of studying the menus which are the size of a refugee tent. It is a kind of contractual thing that if you open up a Chinese restaurant you have to make poster sized menus with dragons on them. You cannot have a Chinese menu without a dragon belching fire with does great things to your appetite. Also mandated is the figure of that Fu Manchu cum Confucius guy with the long drooping moustache and yet I have never seen a Chinese with that sort of south swooping handlebar.
Then we study the menu like we were sitting for our finals and there is a lot of hemming and hawing and much discussion over what to order for soup and who will share with whom. This sharing thing can go on for nearly fifteen minutes with two bowls for the hot and sour, no make that one bowl and two bowls for the sweet corn and chicken, oh you want crab, okay then one bowl here and two bowls for the veggie…oh you are veg on Sundays, no eggs also? Really? Didn’t know that.
By now, of course, the steward is ready to skewer you because there is always one person who ruins the initial fragile order by being veg because it is
M, T, W, T, F, S, S and this entails a reordering and more debate on bowls and who will share with whom. You would think it was a lottery prize we were splitting not wonton soup.
At this point, it is ten to one, and the expert in the group calls for chopsticks because he has to display his expertise and then proceed to teach one of the novices how to use them, and much hilarity is squeezed out of this impromptu lesson, and aren’t we all having good fun?
It is also compulsory when you go out for Chinese to have one well-travelled person on the table who will tell you that Singapore/Kolkata/LA has the best Chinese and this will spark an in-depth debate on the subtle and not-so-subtle difference between Cantonese, Szechuan and Mandarin, which is really a bit of a stretch, seeing as how all we are ordering is fried rice, American chop suey, chicken in black bean sauce, sweet and sour prawns and veggies in stir fried sauce (for the one off the fauna for the day).
Five comments are made during the eating. I have never been to a Chinese dinner where they have not been made.
One thing about Chinese, it goes down so fast, you feel hungry again in an hour.
We have over-ordered again, should we take a doggie bag home? The crispy duck was awesome (ask the crispy duck). Here, have the last wonton, no you have it. No, you. Please, no you. Dammit, eat it. I hope they have fortune cookies (really, are you really that badly off?). Finally, the comparison. The sesame prawns were a bit soft. Last time was better. The chili sauce wasn’t as spicy as that day’s, and green tea, anyone?
Bikram is former editor of KT. Everyday humour is his forte