My Favorite Meal Is Green And Lumpy: Just Don’t Ask Me What It Is

Ted Livant
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Last week, I was eating with an American friend in an Indian restaurant. After pointing at a couple of long words that we did not understand on the vegetarian menu, the waiter brought us a dish.

“What is this?" I asked him.

“Baby gone.”

“Baby gone?”

“Baby gone.”

“Where’s the baby?”

“… Baby gone.”

“OK, baby gone.”

After several bites of this delicious but still unidentified dish, my American friend held up a piece on her fork, looked at it carefully for a minute and said, “Dumbass, this is baby corn.”

I've been living in Chennai (formerly Madras) on the southern coast of India for almost six months now. So far, two things have become apparent: the food is really good, and I am completely unable to learn the local language, Tamil. I’ve lived overseas before, and usually I can pick up at least enough of the language to order in restaurants—but not here. When people ask me about my favorite local dish, all I can tell them is that it’s green and lumpy.

My Indian friends aren’t always entirely helpful in this respect. Recently, I was eating a delicious bean dish, and I asked my lunch companion what it was called.

“Beans,” he said.

“Yeah, I know it’s made of beans but what is it called in Tamil?”

“Beans.”

“I know, but there are like 3,000 bean dishes here. If I want to get this specific thing what do I ask for?”

“Beans.”

“All right so what is this other stuff called?”

“Greens.”

Almost every day, someone at work walks up to me with a leaf full of food to taste. I’ll ask them what it is, and they respond with some really long word, unpronounceable for a native Rhode Islander like me. So I’ll ask them what “vindhajdkdpsaagfjsnfdjfjaloo” contains, and they almost always just say “ghee.” Ghee is standard ingredient in most Southern Indian cooking. To make it, you boil butter until it turns clear and begins to foam, then you let it cool off and it solidifies again. All the solid milk particles have been removed, so it doesn’t need to be refrigerated.

I once asked a co-worker what was in a particular dish.

“Ghee.”

“Ghee?”

“Ghee.”

“Ghee and… ?”

“Ghee.”

“It tastes like it has cinnamon and ginger and maybe honey? What is in this?”

“Ghee.”

One day at work, I sat down with my boss and got ready to eat. I watched my boss as he started sloshing his rice and sauce together with his hands. I looked around and noticed that everyone was doing this, so I figured, why not? Indian food tastes better if you eat it with your hands anyway—it’s a fact.

As I began to eat, my boss looked up at me and asked, “Do you want a spoon?” I said that I could manage. He watched me for another minute then called over someone and said something in Tamil, which I imagined was translated as follows: “Get the bald white man a spoon so I don’t have to watch him eat with his hands. It’s making me lose my appetite.”
 

Comments

Posted on 10/20/2010 by

Gabrielle Gibson

Gabrielle Gibson

LMFAO!!! Loved your piece the tone and delivery were perfect! Can't wait to read more.

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