For several days, we’ve gone from the chai-wallah to my favorite diner/restaurant in Trivandrum…Anandalakshmy: Veg Tables. Yep, that’s the name. Don’t you just love it?This place caught my eye because of the large sign out front. There is a picture of some great food and, smaller, toward the bottom, it says “Wifi.” This being a magic word, I stopped. This word means internet access from my own laptop. Skipping the crazy round of camera -> laptop -> Photoshop -> folder -> external hard drive -> internet access place -> usb -> Flickr. Instead, we can just upload the photos once they’re ready. Also, I just feel better about using my own computer for anything private. Certainly for banking.
At first, we ordered small. After spending hours on the free wifi, though, we ponied up our 60 rupees each and ordered the Kerala Thali. Wow! What an experience. There are about 8 or 10 dishes (varying widely from restaurant to restaurant – some serve only a few) of mysterious names, a range of spiciness (ranging from spicy to yow!), and universal deliciousness.
I’m glad that we waited before ordering this thali, because that gave me the opportunity to more-or-less discreetly watch a few other tables at the process of eating this food. You’d think that I’d been eating my whole life, surely I could figure it out. And yeah – if it’d had to guess, only my childhood traumas would have kept me from the correct method.
Here it is.
The meal is served in a large round metal dish. It looks like a very large cake pan (but shinier). Move the 8-10 small bowls to the outside of the main dish. On the bottom of that main dish is chappathi (or chapatti) and a puri, under that is a round cutout from a palm leaf. The waiter will come back with rice, which he piles with wild abandon (I mean, with great dignity, in great quantities) on the palm leaf.
Now it is your turn for wild abandon. Abandoning rules of a lifetime, abandoning embarrassment, abandoning fear of the “dirty” and “contagious.” (Easier to do if you wash your hands first, as is the custom.) Now that you’re free of childhood baggage, reach your fingers into a small bowl of food you don’t recognize (more or less soft, saucy, sticky, chunky, depending on the dish) and scoop some of the contents up. Now ferry those contents to a frontier of rice. Feel free to miscegenate dishes.
Still using your fingers, mix rice and curry until a fun consistency is reached. Now for the tricky part: form a ball (or pile) of the mixture, push into the shallow bowl of your four cupped fingers with your thumb, raise your hand to mouth, and with the back of your thumb, scoop the ball/pile/stuff from your fingers to your mouth.
Chew, swallow, smile and hum. Repeat.
Oh, and beware – there’s a dish that is mixed pickles. It is delicious, like everything else, but it will strip a year from the seven that your taste buds are supposed to live. It’s the James Dean of food – live short, live glorious.