In my experience, one of the essentials to travel or experiencing another person’s culture is to play by the rules. Or, as the old saying goes: When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Ordinarily, I’m very good at this. Today, however, would be the exception.
My co-worker and I decided to have lunch at Nirvana, a local vegetarian Indian restaurant which features a rotating buffet from a different region of the country. Today was our first time having the Rajasthani buffet, and my co-worker, who is Indian, wasn’t very familiar with the dishes, including the aloo vadi, which is “wet potatoes,” loosely translated.
It’s a typical aloo dish, seasoned with a mild curry, but there were small nuggets of something chewy, something that had the texture (and even the taste) of meat. I thought it might have been some type of dense flour dumpling, so when the owner walked by, I decided to ask. She seemed a tad hesitant as she explained that it was, in fact, a soy dumpling – as if we might not like her answer.
“Wow,” I said as I prepared to take another bite. “It’s really good. The texture is so chewy, I thought it tasted like steak!”
Now, I don’t recommend going into a restaurant owned by Hindus and telling them their food tastes like the cooked flesh of a beast held as sacred by their religion. And in any other situation, I would have carefully guarded my words to ensure that I did not offend the proprietor. Honestly, that wasn’t my intent. But this soy dumpling business was really good.
The woman paused. “Oh, my,” she said, slowly and deliberately, as she walked away, “I didn’t want to know what that tasted like.” It took about three seconds before I understood why my co-worker was glaring at me. She immediately realized what I had said, and after a moment or two, it occurred to me that I meant to say the dumplings tasted like meat. But even that would have been wrong.
I’m not sure what, if any, the lesson is here, other than to keep your mouth shut in certain situations. Still, my co-worker and I had a good laugh. “We better wait a few months before we come back in here,” she said once the owner was out of earshot.