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The Delhi Lament

An ex-expat looks for ways to capture the flavors of the Delhi he left behind By Dave Prager

18 | INDIA CURRENTS | Dec ‘13—Jan ‘14

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spotted the Indians entering Denver’s Botanic Gardens about fifty feet ahead of us. It was their clothes that got me excited: both ladies wore saris. I nudged Jenny with excitement. She sighed. “Dave, this is getting creepy.” Creepy? Since when is it creepy to follow strange Indians around a park hoping to catch their eyes, start a conversation, win their trust, become friends, exchange numbers, and accept an invitation to dinner—all because I want to eat homemade Indian food again? I mean, doesn’t every American who once lived in Delhi do that? The year-and-a-half my wife Jenny and I lived in Delhi’s Hauz Khas Market neighborhood changed me forever. Not just because of the career boost from my promotion to the Gurgaon office. And not just because the book I wrote about Delhi is spinning through book shops even as this essay goes to print. No, it’s mostly because now that I’m no longer in Delhi, my stomach forces my brain to view every Indian I see as a potential conduit to the food I miss so much. I’m not trying to be creepy. I just miss the food. Before we moved to Delhi, I had no appreciation for the dynamics of the cuisine. I was perfectly content with the cheapest Indian buffet serving the stalest garlic naan and the driest tandoori chicken. In those innocent times, every dish on every menu sounded equally exotic and exciting; I’d order whatever I didn’t recognize and, with full ignorance as to both the quality and the composition of what I was eating, enjoy every bite of it. But in the years since we’ve left Delhi, not a single Indian restaurant has achieved even the standards of my office canteen’s watery dal. I’ve yet to taste a paneer as milky and smooth as that from Saket Select Citywalk Mall food court. And even Singapore’s top-

rated Indian restaurants were just a distant echo of what was, to me, the gold standard of Indian food: the meals our maid Ganga would cook for us three times a week. (Wikipedia tells us that Annupurna is the Hindu goddess of food; experience tells us that Ganga is her earthly manifestation.) We’ve tried the trendiest Indian restaurant on Denver’s South Pearl Street, the Singapore branch of Saravana Bhavan, and a dhaba in the back of a suburban Indian grocery in Aurora, Colorado. I’ve departed them all with my belly full but my heart empty. I’ve even purchased the same MDH spice boxes using which Ganga used to cook her heavenly meals for us, faithfully following the recipes printed on the back and failing each time to come anywhere close. Which is why I stare so hungrily at every Indian that I see. We’re in a restaurant in Estes Park, Colorado, a mountain town near one of America’s most spectacular national parks. A bagel is in my hands but my tongue is tasting creamy

dal makhani, because all I can focus on are the unmistakable accents emanating from the couple at the table next to us. They’re discussing hiking routes and camping spots; I’m hearing menu plans and cooking instructions. “Where are you from?” I ask, leaning towards their table, hoping the answer is “Nizamuddin East” so that our conversation could flow easily to kebab stands and butter chicken. The man looks up. “Seattle,” he tells me, curtly. He turns back to his map. I return to my bagel. Now it just tastes like a bagel. After leaving Delhi, Jenny and I spent a year in Singapore and then returned to the States to start a family. Success: our baby daughter Georgiana is sweet, adorable, and the perfect tool to aid my quest to ingratiate myself to Indians. She first played her part at the San Francisco airport. Approaching the gate for our flight back to Denver, I spotted an Indian

December 2013 - January 2014 India Currents  
December 2013 - January 2014 India Currents  

Southern California Edition

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