You were right, Dave. This India country is pretty good. Who knew you’re supposed to find the girl before obsessing about the country? I suppose the last twenty years of my life would have unfolded quite differently if someone had told me then. Not that I’m complaining about how things have worked out…
So my prolonged spell of romancing under the radar may have spared your highly functioning gag reflex for the past couple of weeks — though I do feel somewhat remiss about not providing a running commentary — but believe me, I sure tested mine. Let me just say, I don’t plan on eating paan again anytime in this life. Just remembering the texture as my teeth pierced through an assemblage of unknown ingredients, some of which were sweet and gooey and others savory and crunchy, all bundled in the tough betel leaf, sends shivers of disgust through my body. Maybe had I, like you, known about something else for which India is famous, I might not have been so eager to seize the opportunity to try this common, local treat. And the worst part is, I could tell, watching the man dip his fingers into various bags of unspecified spices and swab the leaf with unspecified salmon and maroon colored jellies that this spelled certain doom — that first big test of constitution when one travels abroad.
As it was, I was laid out for two days with severe chills and mild nausea. Sure, that was bad, but at least it afforded me the opportunity to engage in two of my favorite activities: puking and watching crap television.
Despite puking my guts out, I still managed to put on about 20 pounds. Perhaps it’s because most of the Punjabi-style food served in Delhi is dripping with either butter or ghee. Or perhaps it’s due to the sheer excellence of Bengali home-cooking. Just to offer you a glimpse into my heaven: amazing aloo ghobi, saag with fenugrek and potatoes, mutton curry, deep fried eggplant, fried bitter melon, and, of course, fish in mustard curry.
Of course, the highlight of Bengali dining is not only the flavors — and it’s amazing what one can do with just turmeric — but also using one’s fingers. I may not have learned how to cook during my stay, but, importantly, I retained how to say, “It’s good” in Bangla and managed to eat dal, rice, fish, and most everything else with my fingers. It’s a very simple process of mashing things together — this is especially fun when there is potato — using three fingers as a scoop, and then one’s thumb serves to push the mashed food from scoop to mouth. The rewards for this are yellow fingernails and a totally unselfconscious eating experience. You will be surprised to know that I didn’t even need a finger bowl of lemon water, although these were offered at restaurants after the meal. However, the feeling of being messy may have been a factor in how quickly I would eat everything. While one can give up the idea of wiping one’s hands for a full meal, the salutary napkin and thorough handwashing at the end are always something to look forward to for this guy.