Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Trying To Break Bread


According to the map Munnar was just over 160 kms from Ft Cochin; what it failed to show was the twisty curvy road that we had to share with dozens of other motorists, pedestrians, and the occasional sacred cow.  We thought that our early morning departure would put us high in the mountains by mid-morning, but as the kilometers slowly ticked by we realized that we would be lucky to arrive by lunch time. Just after 1:30 our driver dropped us off outside a small roadside stand, and before we could say a word he disappeared. We timidly entered the open door of the dusty, but popular feeding hole and held up two fingers. We were motioned to wait while space was cleared at a shared table. The four men, who sat in a row, briefly looked at us before two jumped up and moved to the other side of the table.
As we took our seat we smiled and nodded. Our dining companions returned the gesture, but for the next hour they acted as though we didn’t exist. A quick glance around the room confirmed that the majority of the other customers were having the set lunch. Since we had a limited time in India, and we wanted to make sure to try as many different foods as possible, we decided to stray from the flock and order from the menu. With “How To Eat In India” in hand we slowly made our way through the menu picking several plates  we were anxious to taste. By the time we were prepared to order, our server, who had already been by our table several times, had disappeared.  We were beginning to wonder if we had made a mistake by not going with the set lunch. Eventually he re-entered the room and we were finally able to flag him down. To assure that there were no miscommunications, Mark held up the menu and pointed at the menu as he ordered. We were quickly and brusquely told we could not order those plates until after 2. I tried to keep a straight face as I checked my watch and saw that it was 1:45.  Unsure of how to proceed, Mark began to randomly point at the menu, and with each request we got a “Not until 2.” Eventually the waiter informed us that we had 2 options--either the set meal or a Briyanna. We decided to go with one of each.
When our food arrived, I had to question whether the server had been replaced by a twin as he had gone from being surly to extremely friendly. He made sure that we understood all  the components of the set meal and how they were supposed to be eaten. Every few minutes he returned to check if we were enjoying the food and he filled  Mark’s plate with more. When he saw me tasting some of Mark’s condiments he brought me a plate of my own. If he had just been this helpful from the beginning, ordering would not have been such a drama. Perhaps it had been some type of test but, whatever the case, we had a full belly and were ready to tackle whatever the afternoon had to offer. As we  left the table we said good bye to our neighbors--who had not once looked at us during the ordering ordeal. Once we were far enough from the table we couldn’t help but comment on the variety of plates  they had been eating, none of which was offered to us, and all ordered before 2.

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