Monday, January 18, 2010

Cozying up to vindaloo

I've never been a big fan of Indian food. But after my lunch last week with friends, I seriously wondered why. As it turns out, Indian food is my kind of sustenance in every way - fried appetizers, zippy dipping sauces, tastebud destroying heat, and lots of rice to temper the burn.

I traveled back to childhood, searching for answers. Could it have been my short tenure with our Indian babysitter, Saru, who regularly prepared curried goat for dinner? While she did provide unsurpassed dress-up material with her collection of colorful saris and bindi make-up, the goat stew went down like rocks.

Or maybe it was that time I was taken to Bukhara on a blind date twenty years ago. Bukhara was a somewhat trendy downtown restaurant that served Indian food from the northern provinces (whatever that meant). It was a utensils optional kind of place: you ate with your hands, assisted by the delicious naan that they baked in their tandoor ovens.

My date was a current high-ranking White House official. I won't name names, so let's just call him "Q." Back then, he was a political operative. A mutual friend set us up, presumably because we were both short and Jewish.

"Q" picked me up at my apartment, at which point he threw down the gauntlet and the date turned into a rigorous intellectual obstacle course. Was I tough enough, smart enough, savvy enough.....excellent enough to go on a second date? The night consisted of a question-and-answer period, a pop quiz, and a duel. The choice of restaurant was, in hindsight, a test to see if I was too squirmy to eat with my hands. I wasn't, but there was no second date.

And then came lunch last week. We went to Hema's Kitchen, a place on Devon that was featured on Check, Please!, that annoying yet addictive PBS show hosted by the cutesy Alpana Singh. Since I don't know jack about Indian food, I'm assuming Hema's is a fairly conventional Indian restaurant, with a comprehensive menu that features goat in some form, although I don't recall this with any great certainty.

We ended up ordering several dishes, beginning with samosas, and ending with lamb vindaloo. I'm sure vindaloo is to Indian what Kung Pao is to Chinese - a deliciously spicy concoction that's different at every restaurant, yet consistent in its use of specific spices that make it decidedly vindaloo. What those spices are, I have absolutely no idea. But I like that about Indian. The mystery. The intrigue. The upper lip perspiration and facial flushing that stays with you for the rest of the day. Oh, yeah, and the samosas. I kind of like those, too.

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