Punjabi Thali at Madras Café
I didn't see any menus, as such, but there is a whiteboard with about 8 items. I asked for the Punjabi Thali. The waiter asked me a perfectly reasonable question. In Hindi. I naturally said, 'What,' as loudly as possible. I figure, if you're loud enough and forceful enough, these Orientals will respond in English.
Unfortunately, the theory says, you have to wake them in the middle of their night, and nights vary here. Mine starts about 8 p.m., and, after a few nocturnal activities, I usually go to bed around 11 p.m., so my 'middle of the night' is 2:00 a.m.
My Saudi friends get up at 3:30 p.m., say the noon prayer, quickly followed by the afternoon prayer, dress, say the sunset prayer, and begin their workday. They go to sleep right after the dawn prayer. Their 'middle of the night' is around 10 a.m.
Since I don't speak any Hindi, I didn't understand when my waiter explained, i.e., that most diners tell their waiter which options they want with the Punjabi Thali. So I got a plastic cup of hot and sour soup. I don't know if this is the Indian version of a Chinese soup, or an Indian dish that tastes Chinese. Nor could I ask. After about half an hour, I got a round piece of fried bread. I was starving, so I ate it.
Then came the Thali, with a number of Hindi questions that I couldn't answer. Nine bowls. One with white rice, one with rice and vegetables, one with raw onions, carrot, and lime. One with some sort of vegetable I couldn't identify, one with peas and cauliflower (Gobi Mutter). One with chickpeas, one with yoghurt, one with cottage cheese. Finally, one with something yellow that was slightly sweet and had the aroma of cardoman. After a few minutes, a plate with three pieces of Indian flatbread (called chappatti) appeared.
Some thalis come with unlimited re-fills, but here, apparently, you have to ask for refills in Hindi, which is difficult for me. So no refills.
The cost is about €2.25. I had a masala tea, which added €0.25. €2.50 is about the price of an American hamburger, but since I'm vegetarian, I prefer my Punjabi thali.
I know a sophisticated Chinese man. He used to say, when Mao had eliminated all social classes, that there were only 5 social classes left in China, and he was in the top class. Since he told me that (many years ago) sociologists have decreed that the Chinese social classes have expanded to at least 10 (there were many more before Mao). My friend, I think, is now in the second or third highest class. He once expressed (to me) sympathy for Europeans: 'In Europe, only have one kind food. Every country, every restaurant, have same food. Every day, must eat same food. Every restaurant same. In China, we have many kinds food. In China, every day, I eat different kind food. In West, I miss variety.'
I'm sure there is a lesson here. I don't know what it is, but I'm sure there is a lesson here.
One of my textbooks said that the sub-continent is roughly the same size as Europe, and has the same variety of cuisines (and cultures and languages, except that 1000 years of colonization have rather homogenized a lot of things). But I never heard my Chinese friend's sentiments from anyone I know from the sub-continent. Probably, that's because I've never known anyone from the sub-continent from the top three social classes.
Unsophisticated people are the same the world over: I once met a Scot from a welfare estate. She'd tuck into her haggis and chips, but offer her French or German food, and she'd figure the dishes were from the cauldron of one of her three countrymen recorded by the Bard (i.e., 'Double, double, toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble.')
I tried showing a lady from Southern Italy around, and she not only wouldn't taste any of the obviously inedible concoctions of the French and Germans, she refused to taste anything from Northern Italy.
I took a Pakistani into an Indian restaurant, and he said he had no idea how to eat any of the dishes, and left hungry.
But take any sophisticated member of any society, and they insist on having variety in their cuisine. In New York, the sophisticates insist on having the major European cuisine (i.e., Italian) several times a month, Chinese several times a month, and Kosher deli several times a month. They also have Middle Eastern, French, Japanese, Korean, and other cuisines from time to time. In October, they eat German cuisine.
The sophisticated Chinese insists on eating from a wide variety of cuisines: all the different schools of Chinese cooking, of course, but Chinese Indian at least once a week, and European at least a few times a month.
But the unsophisticated Chinese (like everyone else) prefer to eat at home. If they must eat out, it will be at a restaurant run by a member of their extended family, who cooks what is, for them, good home cooking.
Just like the Europeans.
At the end of my meal at Madras, I got a nosebleed. This is either good or bad. If it means Indian food makes my blood pressure skyrocket and make my nose bleed, that's bad. If it means Indian food thins my blood and prevents clots, that's good.
I guess I'll see if I'm still alive tomorrow?