Amar is a Punjabi native who grew up in Delhi. His family lost their businesses back in 1947 when India and Pakistan were partitioned. Nearly fifteen million people were displaced and half a million killed. The British Empire brought many good things to the world. The Latex condom was not one of those things, neither was figuring out how to peacefully divide populations into nation-states. The scars of partition still run very deep here. It doesn’t help that the Pakistanis have a tendency of sending suicide bombers deep into India, the Taj attack in Mumbai being the most recent large scale attack. When I asked what Indians think of Pakistan today, the universal response here was we hate them. Room for improvement, as my school report cards used to say.
Although Amar’s past is a little more tortured than mine, he shares of a love of food and offered to take me out for breakfast to get way from 4 star dining and eat some proper street food with the students, truck drivers, and call center works ready to start their day. Of course I would go, I told him.
The breakfast place was a small hole in the wall beside a noisy road where motorbikes and cars sped by, their horns blaring as they jockeyed for inches. You never see an Indian driver shoulder check or have any obvious regard for the world, the horn does it all. Perhaps it’s a form of echolocation. Even the pedestrians are equally adapted. They stroll across major highways, seemingly unconcerned by the cars which whiz by with only inches to spare. It’s a remarkable skill. Of course, I’ve been in two serious accidents in three days, so maybe they just think it’s a skill.
Amar found us a cramped little table in front of restaurant (I use the word restaurant in its broadest sense), and numerous times he went to the serving window and brought back dishes laden with all manner of South Indian foods. Once seated, he would identify the new dishes for me, and we were off. After I’d finished three servings and was feeling rather full, he looked up with obvious disappointment. We’ve just begun, he said in surprise at my lack of fortitude. Amar, I should point out, was not a small man.
South Indian food is strongly infused by spice, dal, and rice. This is unlike North India food which is cooler and based on wheat. Sitting at that busy little truck stop, we had snow white Idli which are soft as clouds, stuffed Dosa, a crepe like dish with potatoes, Vada, a savory donut, Uttapam, a thick rice flour pancake stuffed with red onion, and finished off with Puri and Paratha, both flatbreads dipped into a cilantro chutney. Having finally exhausted the menu, I told him I drank neither tea nor coffee, but he insisted I try at least the tea, which I did, and it was remarkably good mainly because it tasted nothing like tea. Any tea flavor was well hidden by warm milk and honey. The total price of breakfast was less than five dollars. There are worse ways to start the morning.