As a kid I was accused of being a picky eater. I say “accused” deliberately, because I argue that’s it’s unfair to label someone who doesn’t like tuna and cream of mushroom soup (or green peppers) a picky eater. That’s just three items within the universe of food.
I grew up in the Midwest in the 1970s and that means hotdishes (casseroles). There are untold variations of the hotdish – tuna or hamburger, egg noodles or chow mein noodles. Usually bound together with cream of mushroom soup. You can also add peas. You can add a topping of tater tots or potato chips (for a bit of a crunch). And on and on. So many variations, yet still just one dish in my opinion, and for that I was called a picky eater.
When I went off to college, I slowly discovered there was a world of food that I enjoyed. For instance, I discovered I liked peas when they weren’t swimming in cream of mushroom soup.
Okay, to be fair I should back up a bit. Growing up I also didn’t like my food touching other food on my plate. I didn’t want my corn to touch my Jell-O (in the Midwest Jell-O can act as a salad, a side dish or a dessert).
I admit that seems a bit persnickety to want food to be separated, but if you think about it, it makes sense. A hotdish is a minefield of hidden or disguised items. You have to sift and sort to build a meal from a hotdish that will most likely include tuna and/or cream of mushroom soup. In comparison, a meal of separate items was relaxing (as long as the Jell-O didn’t slide into the corn).
So back to the present. I now eat foods that are mixed without sifting and sorting, but will still put down anything with tuna or canned cream of mushroom soup. There’s a world of food that doesn’t include either!
Last week I went to try an Indian restaurant that had opened earlier this year. I was celebrating my niece’s birthday (as I’ve mentioned previously, when I can’t be with family members for a birthday, I celebrate by going out to dinner in their honor, so far, I like that tradition better than they seem to). My niece is a vegetarian, so if I were to celebrate her, I wanted to make sure my dinner was vegetarian too. That’s how the idea of Indian food popped into my head, as there are tons of exciting dishes that are vegetarian.
The first item was a kati roll (paneer – a type of cheese, egg, pickled onion and green chutney), which is found in Kolkata. The vada pav is a potato dumpling that is dipped in a chickpea batter and fried. They described it as the “poor man’s burger” of Mumbai. That last item was a garbanzo bean stew called cholle.
When I walked into the restaurant, I felt at first like I was in a quirky American restaurant, but the flavors of my dinner quickly reminded me of the foods I ate while in India a few years ago. I was in Delhi, whereas Chef MacLarty was mainly in southern India. India is a vast nation with varied cultures and foods, yet his street food struck a chord with me.
I was in law school studying human rights with 20 other U.S. and Indian students, staying at a campus on the outskirts of Delhi. In my neighborhood, it was more common to see vegetables for sale rather than street food.
Andhra Pradesh is one of India’s 28 states, located on the southeastern coast of the country. Within Delhi, each state has a center where its residents can come for tourist information, accommodations and meals. The centers, however, also provide help to residents for working with government officials and understanding government programs.
And not just because all the food was separated. In one simple meal, we were able to taste quite a few dishes. So much variety, yet still from just one region of India. Plus, the rooms was packed with the buzz of travelers and it was a chance for me to learn more of my classmate’s home.
It was the spices of the cholle from Bollywood Theater PDX in particular that recalled that lunch in New Delhi from the canteen for Andhra Pradesh. For Chef MacCarty to create dishes that allowed me to so vividly recall my own meals in India impressed me.
Had anyone offered Indian food to me when I was a kid, I no doubt would have turned it down. Too much all mixed together. Luckily, even picky eaters tend to grow up and try new foods.