No Recipe For Friendship

They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Not for me.

I can’t be coerced into liking someone with food. If you wanted to make an impression on me and cooked me a nice meal, I’m sure I would really enjoy the meal, but it wouldn’t affect my opinion of you one way or another. If that were the case, I’d be best buddies with the chefs at some of my favorite restaurants. It’s not the same thing, I know. You’re not getting paid to make an elaborate meal and are doing it because you want to, but that doesn’t necessarily tell me anything about you as a person. Even master manipulators have good knife skills, I’m sure.

And it does seem manipulative, to try and win someone over by feeding them. I’m more interested in your personality, your attitude, your quirks and humor. If we can click on that level, then we’re all set. If you seem to have a warm personality and a good sense of humor (bad puns make me groan, but my heart secretly flutters…it’s a manly flutter), I will like you. You can certainly reinforce that by cooking me something good or whipping up some exotic dish, but that won’t get you in the door. Once I know what kind of person you are and I like that person, I can appreciate the sincerity behind your cooking. It doesn’t come across as a ploy to gain favor, but rather as a labor of love for someone you care about.

Ultimately it all comes down to personality. If you don’t have one, you can’t cover that shortcoming in gravy and win me over. I might, however, ask you for the gravy recipe.

Family Nights

Picking a favorite childhood meal is not an easy task. Everyone in my family cooks and I love gorging myself on all sorts of food, so finding one meal that defines a special memory is hard. It’s the polar opposite of the ‘Three Songs’ conundrum. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m Indian by birth, and was raised in Dubai. This exposed me to an entire world of cuisine that I might not have discovered otherwise.

At home, my parents cooked only Indian food, but when we ate out, there were no limitations. Pizzas, burgers, pasta, steaks, we ate it all. In Indian culture, eating beef is a bit of a no-no, but my brother and I never suffered for it. My mom didn’t exactly like it, and ordering any beef dish was met with a disapproving stare, but it was worth it to enjoy a good burger.

Eating out was a weekly affair for my family, a tradition that continues to this day. In Dubai, the weekend used to fall on Thursday and Friday (changed to Friday and Saturday in recent years), and I looked forward to Thursday nights, when we would all go out to dinner. We were creatures of habit, and had a handful of regular places that we visited.

One of them was a small but elegant restaurant called ‘Kitchen’. They served primarily Indian food, but did have some international cuisines, serving as my introduction to Russian Salad (which is apparently known as Olivier Salad, according to Google). It’s a combination of diced potatoes, carrots, peas , boiled eggs and green apples, slathered in mayonnaise. I think Kitchen used to put a little something in their mayonnaise that made it magic, because I just could not get enough of that creamy goodness.

My favorite meal there was a combination of roomali roti, a paper-thin, slightly sweet flatbread (if you can call it that) whose name literally translates to ‘handkerchief bread’, and reshmi kebab, which translates to ‘silky kebab’. And boy, was that name ever appropriate. The kebabs were morsels of melt-in-your-mouth (and fall-apart-in-your-hand!) chicken with a creamy, yogurty marinade and a sprinkling of herbs, and were indescribably amazing when wrapped in the gossamer-like roti. To date, I have not come across a kebab that made me fall in love with it quite like that.

But I digress. That’s not really the meal I had planned to talk about, although it is a fond childhood memory. No, my most-remembered childhood meal was at the food court of one of the major shopping malls here at the time (back when we only had like 2 malls, and there wasn’t a competition to see which one could be the most extravagant in the world). We all had our set preferences there, except for my brother, who’s the most adventurous eater in the family.

My mom stuck to Indian food, my dad usually went for Chinese or Japanese (one of my funniest memories is seeing my dad, a lover of all things hot and spicy, steaming at the ears after a taste of wasabi), my brother tried whatever struck his fancy that night, and I had the Mozza Burger at A & W. A juicy beef patty with lettuce, tomatoes, a slab of beef bacon and the special Mozza sauce, this thing makes my mouth water just thinking about it.

I’ve had a lot of burgers in my time, many of them easily better than the Mozza Burger, but I can still see myself going to that A & W at the mall, tucked into one corner of the food court and with glass walls that made it seem bigger than it was. Biting into that burger, feeling the saltiness of the bacon, the tang from the Mozza sauce…I really shouldn’t have been writing this post so close to lunch.

But it wasn’t all about the burger. I mean, it is just a burger. What I loved most was being out with my family and just getting out of the house. Everyone was pretty busy with their lives most of the time, except for me. Once my homework was finished, I had all the free time in the world, but nobody else did, and I wasn’t allowed out by myself. On Thursday nights, we were all free. We could go out, eat, and just have fun!

I also had my own little agenda, of course. There was a video game arcade in the food court area, which I visited almost religiously after dinner. I was a very quick eater, and got bored sitting around while waiting for the rest of my family to finish their dinner. So I’d get permission from my parents (not always granted, mind you) and run off to my own little world.

Afterwards, we’d have ice cream from Baskin Robbins (no matter how stuffed we were), bringing the night to a sweet finish. I was always eager to try the flavor of the month, and loved their many chocolate concoctions (the World Class Chocolate speaks for itself).

Then came the ride home, at close to midnight, when the whole city was quiet (back during a time when that was a real possibility). Many a night, I’d fall asleep on the way and would have to be carried home from the car.

Life’s changed a lot since then. Kitchen closed down years ago, and I don’t think there are any A & W outlets left here. The city’s gotten bigger while my family’s gotten smaller. It definitely wouldn’t be appropriate to carry me to bed. Our dinner outings are more often just lunch outings now. But I still get that familiar rush of excitement whenever I go out to eat with my family. It reminds me of a time when I could bite into a greasy Mozza burger, or feel a reshmi kebab disappear on my tongue, leaving only its delicate flavor behind. It makes every meal the best meal ever.