Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Food, with love

Every thing about the place seems mundane. Punjab Sweets can hardly be called a restaurant. You enter in to a large room, with four or five tables haphazardly arranged, and lawn chairs strewn about. There’s no decoration around the room to speak about, no fancy lighting, no painted windows, no nice curtains, no large embroidered wall-hangings. There’s just a couple of tacky “Indian” paintings, and a photo of Guru Nanak on the wall. The counter in front of you is exceedingly drab.

You walk up to the counter, listening to the soothing Shabad keertan that’s constantly playing. You then gape at the wide assortment of sweets and namkeen in front of you, arranged just like an old fashioned halwai in small-town Northern India would, in a sliding-door glass cabinet. Arranged in front of you are an endless range of jalebis, mothi chur ladoos, rava ladoos, gulab jamuns, kala jamuns, peda, petha, burfi and halwa. You then succumb to temptation, and order half a kilogram of hot jalebis, and take them back to the table where your friends are sitting, talking loudly about anything they feel like. The people around you look just as relaxed, chatting, laughing or reading. As you munch through the pile of jalebis, and your glass of milk, you decide what you want to eat. After all, there are only six dishes on the “menu”, stuck on the wall. You (with your group of friends) decide to order everything on the menu, some paneer pakoras, a samosa or three, some muli or gobi or aloo parathas, some sarson ka saag and makki rotis, and perhaps a kofta or two. They soon materialize, brought in by the owner’s mom (who’s also the cook), or the owner’s son (who part times here when he’s not in college), or their school-going daughter. The food is on old steel plates, and you are greeted by enormous parathas, a large cup of saag or kofta or sabji, an equally large cup of fresh, home-made dahi, home-made pickles, some onions and a little green chilli. You dig right in to it with your fingers, slurping the yogurt, smacking your lips, with the occasional lick of the finger itself.


And then, after you and your friends finish overeating (in absolute, frenzied silence) you continue to talk (now leaning back in satisfaction) about life, the universe and everything. Finally, you look at the clock, reluctantly get up, walk up to the sweet counter, buy another kilogram of jalebis, and an assortment of sweets (for a “rainy” day), and head out.

And then, as you step out, you are taken back to reality. It’s cold outside, and cars are whizzing by. You hop in to your car, and press the pedal to take you to the freeway. Ten miles later, you’re back in the heart of Seattle.

But you’re feeling extremely satisfied, after a little feeling of “home” (so what if Punjabi food isn’t what I’d eat at home in India). It’s not the d├ęcor or the service or the ambiance. It’s just some good food, cooked with love and care, and an extra dollop of home-made ghee.


Michael Higgins said...

Hi Sunil
There’s just a couple of tacky “Indian” paintings, and a photo of Guru Nanak on the wall.
Actually, a photo of Guru Nanak would be quite remarkable. :-)

This place seem extremely similar to a place in Fairfax, VA. It too has the same sweets (it also serves food). It is run by a Sikh gentleman.

But I have never grown fond of Indian sweets. I love the European ones and I love chocolate (obviously) but Indian sweets are an acquired taste.

My wife brought back some Indian sweets from our trip to India. We had also left some chocolates in the fridge that we were going to take to India but forgot. Guess what I ate? Guess what my wife ate?

My belief is that some cultures just are supremely good at making some things. The French are experts in many culinary things including making wine. The Czecks are great at making beer. The Swiss are great at making chocolate. And the Austrians are experts at making cakes and torts. And Indians are experts in making savory foods.

But Indian sweets are like Indian movies. If you did not grow up with them, you probably don't like them so much.

Sunil said...

ok, ok.....i goofed up. A picture/artists impression of Guru Nanak. Fine. I knew that there weren't cameras around when Guru Nanak lived....:-(

I'll leave that there, to see if any one picks that up :-)

I'm not so sure about your general comment about Indian sweets though. I've made some gulab jamuns or rasmalai for my collegues, and they usually love it.

Anonymous said...

sweets for a "rainy day"? :) what better than piping hot jalebis for it?!
funnily, I have a new post on food too - I think eating familar food is the closest to actually being at home... I used to go hunting for jalebis in Southall whenever I was particularly down and out in London...

Sunil said...

yes's probably the thing that gets us closest to "home". And you can never really be unhappy on a full stomach.

Michael Higgins said...

Hi Sunil
I've made some gulab jamuns or rasmalai for my collegues, and they usually love it.
Well, if you made them, I would love them too!

Sunil said...


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