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).
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.