I was at a house-warming last night, got home very late for a work night and have been drinking lots of tea today.
One of my Indian colleagues invited all his team mates round to show off his new house. We arrived at 7ish to be greeted warmly and served masses of bhajis, dips, poppadums and the most delicious onion chutney in the world. S and his wife (also S) were constantly moving around the room encouraging us to try everything and taking every opportunity to sneak more food onto our plates when we weren't looking.
I was invited to have a tour of the house as other guests arrived, and I jumped at the chance to escape from the food for a bit. Mrs S showed me round and explained their plans to change the layout and make the house perfect for them. She showed me their prayer room and was very embarrassed about having to ask me to take my shoes off to go in. I wasn't at all bothered, and hope I managed to convince her of that. It's the only room in the house where they are strict about observing traditions, and when I was shown the family shrine and photos of S's Mum who died at the start of the year I understood why.
After the tour it was time for more starters. The second wave of guests had cleared the platters, but our hosts brought out an equal quantity again. I was very good and managed to avoid most of it, as I was worried about not being able to eat the main course. While all this was going on S buzzed around the room constantly re-filling everyone's glasses. He had a knack for filling wine glasses so much to the brim that you could see the meniscus curve quivering on the top. I was surprised, by the way, to learn he drank alcohol, because many of my other Indian colleagues don't. Thankfully I'd found out just before I went so I was able to bring a bottle of wine along with me too.
We had the main course just after 10 " S's normal dinner time but awfully late for dinner by Norn Iron standards. It was at the main course that the difference in traditions really stood out. Rather than us all sitting down for the meal together, the Western guests had the first sitting, and S and Mrs S served us. After the food was served up they hovered around the table chatting to their guests, explaining the food and taking every chance they got to put more food on the plates or more wine in the glasses. I asked Mrs S when she would get her meal. She said this was their tradition of hosting and I was to let her enjoy being my hostess, and enjoy being served by the hosts who would eat after the guests had gone. As someone who is more often found in the kitchen at parties serving up more food and drink, or helping the hosts sort things out, I have to be honest and say I found it difficult at first. But I relaxed into it as the meal went on because S and Mrs S were so easy about it.
The food is worthy of its own paragraph. There were 3 mains and we tried a bit of each. A beautifully flavoured lentil dahl made with red and green lentils was so rich and textured that even our confirmed Norn Iron "meat, spuds, no veg" man liked it enough for seconds. A slightly spicier curry dish with paneer and peas through it was my favourite because of the way the juicy sweetness of the peas contrasted with the warmth from the curry and the mild paneer. The final dish was an okra-based curry that was at the upper levels of heat for me, but well worth tasting for the crunch of the vegetables alone. I may have had some more of the onion chutney and was also persuaded to try some mango chutney that S described as mild, and Mrs S described as hot. I'm with Mrs S on that one ! Once we had eaten the naan and curry, S brought out a big bowl of pilau rice. We had had a right old chat earlier about their tradition of eating the rice separate from the curry " putting the rice centre stage on its own allowed you to taste the subtle spices in the rice and enjoy the tiny pieces of vegetables mixed through it. I could have eaten a huge bowl of the rice for dinner and been completely happy.
After we'd persuaded S that we simply couldn't eat another bite, team mate M gently convinced S and Mrs S that the smokers really needed a smoke break and they should use the opportunity to eat their own meal. It took M some persuading, but I think the fact it was after 11 at this point helped convince them.
I joined the smokers outside on an incredibly warm, slightly damp Belfast evening, admired the huge magnolia bush and climbing rose and watched the moths bang their heads off the lights. As we chatted it was obvious I wasn't the only one had felt awkward at the dinner serving arrangements, but it seemed others found it more difficult to relax at all.
When we heard the sounds of dinner stopping we went back in and the whole group assembled in the living room for some football, Bollywood chat and tea and coffee. There was a little inappropriate questioning from the boss, when he asked the Indian folk what caste they were from. But Mrs K laughed and said "I can tell you because I don't work for you, that you shouldn't ask that." Which was excellent of her and made me smile.
I think the chat could have gone on all night, but I eventually made my escape around midnight. Tired today and still feeling a little of the after-effects of that mango chutney.
Wow, Shereen - what an evening - I was with you every step of the way.
Wonderful storytelling - and what lovely people, ay?
Good to taste genuine Indian food, and know what it should taste like!
Are you tempted to try any of these dishes?
What a fantastic post Shereen. Lovely to read and so well written. What a lot of information. When I was in India my son's mother in law cooked for us and not once did she eat with us. That must have been why, but it was never explained. Her food too was excellent. It is so interesting to know and understand other cultures. I can understand why some guests may have felt a bit uncomfortable, but it sounds like you coped very well. ( Imagine asking what caste they were and how well the lady coped with the question )
Old teachers never die, they just lose their class
Shereen, I think that your post must be #1 contender for Post Of The Year on this forum.
Brilliant writing and lovely, sensitive descriptions. There were so many bits that I wanted to quote and comment upon (I hear you saying "go on, Danny - go on, go on, go on - quote and pay compliments!").
I adore the old fashioned (by our standards) politeness and hospitality of Indian people. They treated me really well when I visited there two years ago and I loved it.
Love Mrs K's comment re caste (how daft of your boss to ask?)
Never knowingly underfed
Hi folks - I'm so glad you all enjoyed reading that. It was such an unusal house warming compared to the ones I normally go to that I wanted to note it down for the memory. And then when I'd written it all down in my wee private diary I thought of you guys and thought you'd maybe like it 🙂
Brightspark - I really want to try a dahl now. Lentils are one thing I've managed to get G to eat, but usually only red ones that disappear in stews, or green ones in a korma that he can mostly ignore. But in the dahl we had they were centre stage and worthy of it.
Danast - I told the boss he could get an answer to his question, but he'd have to tell us all what school he went to, what religion he was, what football team he supported and how much money he earned. He was with the joke right up until I mentioned salaries 😉
Danny " go on, go on, go on " quote and pay compliments.
*prepares to bask in the compliments*
.... but, TA, it has two Z's, like fuzzy, and guzzle, and other such words.
They certainly wouldn't get the score on Scrabble that quizzical would though, that's for sure ....
Ooh look, 13 - again!!!
Most Users Ever Online: 767
Currently Browsing this Page:
Guest Posters: 11
Newest Members:Veronanat, tonyajomoorp, expip, maximllPl, RobertasseK, EdwardDum
Moderators: Toffeeapple: 16337, AdminTA: 10, Fiona Nevile: 0
Administrators: Danny: 5517