Thursday, July 21, 2011

When in Rome...

Saravana Bhavan, New York, NY

On a trip to Bangalore in 2010, I happened to tell my host that I wanted to try out some 'local cuisine'. Obviously, my knowledge of the southern states local cuisines was not evovled (to say the least) as I soon found out. Expecting to dig into hot idlis and a mysore masala cheese dosa (seriously, its a dosa commonly available in Bombay!), I was shocked to discover that they served only an Andhra Thali - you know, the kind that serves rice on a banana leaf with the rasam and the gun powder and all the other quintessential Andhra sides?

Now I'm not the biggest fan of rice and rasam, so I requested the waiter (tambi) to provide me with other options. He meekly pointed out to a section on the menu which said 'Punjabi' and had a few items listed under it. Yes, I was as dis-believed (if that's a word) at the knowledge that an Andhra-specialty restaurant serves paneer tikka but not idli! Anyhow, after some sniggering from the waiter and some from my otherwise kind host, I ordered a paneer butter masala and a naan. My second moment of disbleief happened soon enough when I was told that they do not have plates: "Onleee baenana leaf medam'. That was the beginning of it. It got progressively worse.

The paneer arrived looking like somebody had dunked those white Natraj erasers into a bowl of a watered down version of bad tomato ketchup. Of course it was a sight to behold when I tried to contain the gravy from falling off the leaf. Then I had to fight with the waiter to bring me a spoon (yeah Mr. waiter, its completely believable that a top-end restaurant like yours does not have a single spoon!). As if this wasn't enough, I had every single patron, some 20 pairs of eyes looking at me in loathe, almost silently communicating for me to get lost for good.

So there, that was my great North Indian adventure at a South Indian eatery. So I should have known better than to willingly put myself  in a similar situation again, this time on the other end of the world!

A month after we got to the US, sensing that I might be just a tad bit missing home, the husband decided to take me to his favorite Indian restaurant (or one of them) in Manhattan - Saravana Bhavan.

Fortunately for me, SB, although South Indian in origin, neither served food on banana leaves nor restricted its offerings to South Indian fare. In fact, they had quite a few diverse options on their menu and much to my delight, I didn't look like the only person ordering a non-specialty. After some debating with the husband and with my own conscience (which begged me to stick to idli/dosa), I finally got myself a Chole Bhature; This time the Gods were with me! My dish arrived looking scrumptious, tasted delicious and left the waiter ambitious (err, whatever!) after the happy tip we gave him for the happy meal that we had.

Now how difficult is that?