Lesson #71: The Trouble With Takeout

by Rachel on March 1, 2011

When Friday night rolls around, I’m usually in the mood for some “me time.” If I’m not laying around reading wedding blogs, I often like to go on little adventures on my own. Last Friday night, the urge for an adventure struck.

You see, I wanted Indian food. I wanted it to be saucy and meaty and spicy. And I wanted it to be prepared by someone who was not me.

As I waited for class to start at Define, I used the Yelp app to browse for nearby Indian restaurants. I needed to stop at the grocery store before I went home, and so I wanted to find a restaurant that allowed me to do go the grocery store, then go to the restaurant, and then go home…without any backtracking.

The grocery store was on my way home, so I stopped there first, intending to just pick up a few things to cook over the weekend. Of course, this turned into a 45-minute endeavor, and once I left, I was really hungry. I checked Yelp again and had two options: a place that appeared to be on on my way home and a place that would mean about 8 minutes of backtracking. Even though the latter had its menu online, and I could see exactly what I wanted to order was on that menu, I went with the former, because I hate backtracking in Houston. And even though it didn’t have a menu online, it had really great reviews — everyone said it was the best authentic Indian food they’d ever had.

Well, turns out, it was on my way home, but not exactly on my way home, and definitely involved me going way out of my way for 8 minutes. And once I arrived, I was disappointed to see that the word “vegetarian” was in the name of the restaurant. That part of its name wasn’t actually listed on Yelp. Since I was in the mood for something chicken or lamb, I considered leaving and going to the other place, but I was too hungry at that point.

Oh well, I thought. I’m down for some lentil protein tonight.

The restaurant was packed and there was no menu posted. When I got to the counter to order, I was handed a menu filled with several dozen types of authentic Indian food. The only problem? I’m pretty much only familiar with bastardized Indian food. And this menu? Was the real deal. It was so real, in fact, that it didn’t have any explanations of what anything was.

It was like traveling abroad and trying to order food…except when you do that, you have some idea of what things are before you head overseas. I hadn’t done any research. I was just there for a better version of an Amy’s frozen entree. I just stared at it with no idea where to even begin.

I desperately tried to locate something I’d recognize — curry! chicken tikka masala! — but none of those were on the (seriously long) menu, at least as far as I could tell, and, since approximately 90 percent of the diners in the restaurant were Indian, I was too nervous to ask. Rather than admit that I was totally clueless, I just thought, Fake it till you make it, right? And so I faked it.

The guy at the counter asked how hungry I was, and then pointed to an appetizer and an entree. The entree was listed under “dosas,” above one of the dishes a few people had mentioned on Yelp. I pointed to the one I had seen on Yelp and said, “I’ve heard this is good. Should I get that instead?”

I was trying to make it seem like several of my friends had dined here before and told me it was good, and that my hesitation over what to order was a direct result of loving Indian food so much that I wanted to try everything. I was trying to downplay how totally clueless I was. But he encouraged me to go with his recommendation…which was fine, I guess, if that’s the dosa they recommend to (semi) white girls who come in there and don’t know what to get. My only concern, really, was that he had recommended the best version of something I had no idea if I was going to like or not.

“You have to assemble this if you get takeout — is this OK?”

I mean…at that point, what else was I going to say?

I sat down to wait for my order and Googled, “What is a dosa?”

From Wikipedia — and looking around the restaurant — I learned that it is a very large crepe-ish thing that comes stuffed with filling. OK — so I sort of knew what I was getting. I just had no idea what it was going to be filled with.

My hunger combined with my growing fear that I might hate what I ordered led me to seriously consider fleeing at that point and just going home and making eggs for dinner. Poverty trumped appetite though, and since I’d already paid, I stuck it out.

Upon arriving home, I found what was clearly my appetizer and then I found the large crepe-ish thing. And then there were several containers: three containing liquids, and two containing solids (a potato mixture and a mixture of chopped vegetables and cilantro).

OK…great.

I mean, for someone who eats authentic Indian food on a regular basis, this is probably like an American person getting a takeout burger and having the patty and the bun wrapped separately and the ketchup and mustard in packets; instinctively, you’d know what to do in that situation. Unless you had never seen a burger before in your life. And had just had to Google, “What is a burger?”

Naturally, I Googled, “How do I eat a dosa?”

God bless the Internet. I actually found a guide that taught me just that. I learned that the potato filling went inside and the sauces were for dipping. I wasn’t clear on where the chopped vegetable mixture went, so I put it inside too.

Finally, I sat down to eat. The appetizer was some sort of crunchy ball of air, but it was good enough. Not mind-blowing or particularly useful (air = not filling), so I only ate one. And the dosa was fine too, but I didn’t love the crepe part, so I only picked at that. The potato mixture was good, but it was a little bland on its own.

To deal with this, I turned to the three sauces, but they were so spicy. I have a pretty high tolerance for spice, but this packed so much heat, I couldn’t even dip the dosa in the sauce. All I could do was dip the tines of my fork in the sauce and put a little on each bite, like a skinny bitch does with salad dressing. Anything beyond that and my eyes started to water. But it was good and relatively filling…mainly because it was so spicy, it kinda cut my appetite.

Given that all I’d really eaten was some potatoes and a few bites of bland bread in spicy sauce and a crunchy ball of air, I went to bed feeling really skinny. And dumb. But skinny.

The next day, I made this chicken tikka masala from scratch and it totally satisfied my craving.

Lesson #71: convenience is overrated.

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Carolyn @ Lovin' Losing March 1, 2011 at 9:06 am

And this is why I so often end up ordering the same things over and over. I hate being disappointed with my food.

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2 Marvella March 1, 2011 at 9:39 am

Agreed!

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3 Melissa March 1, 2011 at 9:17 am

Amen. I can totally relate–my pride would never allow me to ask a billion questions. I rock the, “Oh yeah, I know what I like I just can’t decide” facade while secretly thinking, “What the F is a dosa?” Thank God for google.

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4 Erika @ Health and Happiness in LA March 1, 2011 at 11:04 am

Hahahaha I can’t believe you agreed to assemble your own meal. That seems like the turning point towards disaster.

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5 Manon March 1, 2011 at 11:27 am

I so wish you had a picture of your face when you had the “How the fuck do I eat this” moment. Priceless.

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6 shelby March 1, 2011 at 11:28 am

What was the “ball of air?” How weird!

I get pretty anxious when I’m ordering take-out just for me. The inability to make a decision, the on-the-spot-ness of it all…oy.

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7 Rachel March 1, 2011 at 12:49 pm

I honestly have no idea!!! I think it started with a “b”…

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8 Parita @ myinnershakti March 1, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Rachel, this post seriously cracked me up!!! I can only imagine how you felt because there have been times I have felt the same way, and I am Indian! LOL! Dosas are actually one of my favorite Indian foods, but if they aren’t made right, they can turn out to be a disaster. I have found that so many bloggers love Indian food, so I am acutally going to start focusing on just that a few times a week in my blog. :) I’m still giggling!

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9 Rachel March 1, 2011 at 12:48 pm

Oooh I would love to read about this!! Please explain how a dosa should be made and enjoyed if at all possible!!!

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10 Parita @ myinnershakti March 1, 2011 at 1:00 pm

So, a dosa is a very thin, light crepe, and it should be crunchy when you sit down to eat. It’s usually filled with a potato/onion masala mixture, but the fun part about dosas is that there are so many different kinds. My favorite is the paneer (pressed cottage cheese) filled one – YUM! So what you do is tear off a piece of the crepe, scoop up some of the mixture and dip it in the sambar and chutneys. Sambar is a lentil soup, and it really has to be made with the right combination of spices or else it ruins the experience, and my favorite chutneys to eat with dosas are coconut (made with yogurt I believe) and mint. If you have the opportunity to try dosas again, please do so because they really are delicious! I will talk to some of my friends in Houston to see if I can find you a good dosa restaurant!

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11 Jasmine @ Eat Move Write March 1, 2011 at 12:23 pm

That was awesome. lol. I can definitely relate. hehe

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12 Laura Georgina March 1, 2011 at 12:42 pm

I am SO SORRY you got stuck with a bum dosa. When they’re good, they’re one of my favorite foods ever. I’m surprised the restaurant made it as a takeaway option because the best part of the crepe is that it’s crispy when it’s freshly-made!

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13 Rachel March 1, 2011 at 12:49 pm

Crispy, eh? Mine was definitely like a pancake or pita bread. More stale-ish than crispy.

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14 Mel March 1, 2011 at 1:46 pm

This story is hilarious, mostly because I also can relate: I get the WORST buyer’s remorse when ordering food! Sorry for the food fail!

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15 Bridget@PavementandPlants March 1, 2011 at 4:30 pm

I get buyer’s remorse too! That’s an excellent way of describing it. That’s why I always order the same things.

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16 Rachel March 1, 2011 at 5:32 pm

Oh, you guys. I seriously should have Eric write a guest post about my food remorse. We were at a new place and I honest-to-god looked at the menu for 20-30 minutes because everything looked SO good. I finally ordered and then instantly regretted what I chose. I was BEGGING him to let me get the waiter back over and he would not, and I nearly cried. The meal was delicious, but I was seriously so sad. He told me we could go back and I could order something else next time, but that still hasn’t happened yet, come to think of it….

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17 Cameo March 1, 2011 at 2:14 pm

Aw, man…I hate when I don’t know what I am ordering. I am a (food) control-freak. Your chicken looks amazing!

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18 Diane March 1, 2011 at 2:25 pm

I sympathize … so much! There are several Salvadoran restaurants on my block, and I always want to seem cool and knowledgeable when I go there. But inside, I’m like, “What’s a pupusa? What do I do with it? I’m the worst resident. I should know this!!!”

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19 Sable March 1, 2011 at 3:09 pm

I hate when I’m absolutely starved and go somewhere to eat and it takes longer than if I had just stayed home and cooked something from scratch. So frustrating!

But hey at least you got a culinary adventure out of it right?! :) And now if I’m ever in this situation…I’ll be good ;)

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20 Ashley March 1, 2011 at 8:00 pm

Oh I would have NO idea how to order at an authentic Indian restaurant.. I don’t even know that I’ve ever had Indian?

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21 Angela (the diet book junkie) March 1, 2011 at 8:12 pm

haha…i love that you Googled it. how did we ever live without her? :)

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22 Bess March 1, 2011 at 9:39 pm

Was this the night I saved your dinner??

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23 Rachel March 2, 2011 at 10:01 am

No, actually! It was Sunday, when I was eating the homemade chicken tikka masala and desperately needed some naan to go with it. Kroger didn’t have it I REALLY didn’t want to do more backtracking to go to HEB…but then I remembered the Whole Foods you went to! So delicious naan, o backtracking necessary!

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24 Rachel March 1, 2011 at 9:50 pm

Can you cook for me? I want to go to the Rachel Wilkerson restaurant!

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25 Jessica March 1, 2011 at 10:37 pm

I’m really curious where you ate (I’m in Houston too)! I love (americanized) Indian food, but I’ve never tried dosas before. You’re brave for giving them a chance, I would have been scared away by the self-assembly part. My favorite Indian in Houston is Shiva in Rice Village.

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