Like burping being a sign of appreciation of a particularly satisfying meal, licking the bowl is one of life’s guilty pleasures usually kept for solitude or the closest of family or friends. How we behave when no-one is looking is a good indicator of our more primitive history, and how we eat involves more than just our taste buds.
From an early age we learn to play with our food, testing what is good. From soil to long lost strands of spaghetti bolognaise found in a crevasse under the couch, there is almost nothing a toddler won’t at least have a go at. How sad that we sometimes lose this risk taking behaviour as we get older, get stuck in our culinary ways and order Thai takeaway, yet again.
It is with this playfulness and glee at discovering a new texture, a new flavour, that I discover a vegetarian Indian restaurant in Harris Park. It was recommended by a friend’s father and I had almost forgotten about it when I found myself with a craving for curry and the usual place up the road, Chutney had closed down. So I forged ahead into the unknown depths of Wigram Street and stumbled into Taj. Bare tables, metal plates, families, lots of locals.
Dave orders the lunch special, two curries, rice and a freshly cooked naan for $7.50. The two curries were one with paneer (a soft mild cheese) and the other made with kidney beans, very tasty and ‘meaty’. If you were going to be vegetarian, this is the way to do it!
Memories of eating off banana leaves in Singapore lead me to order a masala dosa, a large crispy crepe made of lentil and rice flour rolled up into a newspaper shape filled with mildly spiced chunks of potato and onion. This used to be $7.50 but has gone up to $8.50. On the side are three small bowls. A mustardy vegetable soup called sambar, and two cooling dipping sauces or relishes: one coconut, one tomato/capsicum. Both are delicious in their own right, and complement the dosa perfectly, though the tomato/capsicum is my favourite.
As it is customary with traditional Indian food to eat with one’s right hand, and seems to be in practise at Taj, I break with my usual custom of cutlery and approach my meal with my eyes and fingers. This considerably slows the pace of my eating, making me savour each bite, and use the crisp dosa to scoop up the soft, warm filling, occasionally dipping a piece in the sambar to soften and melt in the mouth.
All too soon the crispy bits are all gone so more coordination is required to pick up the soft pieces of potato and onion. As I suck each finger clean, savouring the last remnants, I revel in the guilty pleasure. I feel a few curious glances as I am obviously enjoying my meal, but I pay little attention to this. I still have the sweets counter to think about.