Sunday, January 20, 2008

Favouring Curry

Namaste! See, three days in, and practically fluent...
I have my first kiss from a real Indian person, right there in the middle of the bakery aisle at the Haiko supermarket. She’s fifteen months old, on her mother’s hip, receiving instruction in the noble art of blowing kisses. The first two go up her nose, obviously, but the next one’s definitely mine. I return the honours, thus establishing the anglo-indian entente cordiale, and stroll off to moong beans, smirking.
Today, we’re Jamil-less, and therefore carless, so we set out boldly on foot, to quarter our new quarters and locate ourselves. At the same time, it has to be said, the locals locate us. It’s difficult to be inconspicuous, when you’re a foot taller than everyone else, especially combined with the attractive shade of magnolia which is my keynote tint. (You can’t walk two blocks without seeing an advert for skin lightening products, just as in the UK we are cornered into wanting to look tanned. If all the Indians moved to Britain, and all the Brits moved out here.... perfect solution!) Still, having resigned myself to the Invisibility of the Woman of a Certain Age, I find the attention not unwelcome...
We walk a million miles, looking for a restaurant for this evening, but only find KFC and Pizza Hut – or rather, they find us, as brash and unaccommodating here as the world over. Neither fried chicken nor calzone come within our remit for authentic cuisine, so we walk on by. Completely by accident, as we’re about to bow to the inevitability of the baked bean (again), we find an entire gallery of eating houses.
The ground floor of the little precinct nearby accommodates rabbit runs of bright stalls, selling everything from colour printers to flower arrangements, and boxer shorts to painted elephants. Upstairs, on the first floor, is a warren of restaurants. No wonder the streets are deserted, except for the odd sleeping cab-driver, with his legs hooked over the steering wheel – Mumbai is here, shovelling up rice with his fingers, until he can see his face in the shining stainless steel.
When sun sets, which it does with the speed of a curtain falling, we return. The world and his wife are out and about, trailed by a string of small children, a bike, and a dog. Of course, it makes perfect sense, to wait until the heat of the day abates, before going out meeting and greeting. We just don’t work it out, until we happen to see it in action. We’re out at 10 a.m., rattling the doors of locked shops, wondering where all the people are. Like going out in France at one in the afternoon, and being amazed to find it closed – it’s a question of knowing local habits. We’ve got you sussed, now, Mumbai.
Tonight, we have our longed-for gastronomic baptism of welcome. You need to go to Kareem’s, in the Gallery, near the Hiranandani Gardens. When you go, ask for Joe (unlikely, but true), and he’ll tell you to have the black dahl, with cumin rice. He’s not wrong. We have kebabs (Roland chicken, me prawn, but we share, as contracted to, circa 1979), followed by some chicken dish made in heaven with more butter than is good for you, and naan so garlicky, you can probably smell it, if you put your head out of the window where you are. See, I said we would do culture, today.
For the nonce, Achchha!