Lifting my Personal Embargo on Indian Food
In the spring of 1998, I moved out of my freshman year dorm room, saying goodbye forever to my freshman year roommate. This 4'8" dude was the moodiest, rudest, most anti-social dude I've ever known. He also happened to be from India. We didn't see eye to eye on lots of things, and I'm not talking about religion or politics or foreign policy. I'm talking about personal hygiene, housekeeping and hours of operation. Manners of common human decency.
This dude cooked authentic Indian food in our tiny dorm room just about every night, because the cafeteria usually had non-Indian fare. For a while, this was cool. I love experiencing new culture and new things. But then I discovered two things: one, certain spices are expelled from the body via sweat glands and not the usual digestive process; two, if a person eats foods containing those spices, and goes an entire semester without washing his bedsheets, the smell -- nay, the odor -- becomes overwhelming. There needs to be a better word for "Gross" when you're talking about The Ol' 56er, as I derisively called him. Suffice it to say, this odor made pungent look for a stronger word to describe itself.
So much so that to this day, the very scent of Indian cuisine makes me throw up in my mouth. The scent brings me back to days in 1997 or 1998, the smell of our dorm room, and I throw up in my mouth. Bad times.
I've had a personal embargo on Indian Food for 121 months, or 10 years and 1 month, or over a decade, depending on your preference in timekeeping. But some recent acts of diplomacy have convinced me that the best thing for domestic tranquility is to lift the sanctions, to lift the embargo, and to go eat Indian food at an authentic Indian restaurant.
So it was that I found myself at the Indian Oven in the Old Market on Friday night. My decision to lift the decade-long sanctions came as a big surprise to lots of folks, not the least of which were a couple of people I knew in college, knew The Ol' 56er, and understood the sanctions. Two friends who did not know The Ol' 56er had less sympathy. Dick Herculanum found the entire thing ridiculous; Continental Frutiger IMd me with suggestions on things to order. But former college design classmates understood, and many Inboxed me on Facebook with shocked surprise.
Continental had told me "Max, listen to me...Two words: Chicken Tikka. This is all you need to know."
I went to Google Images and looked up this Chicken Tikka that he spoke of, and it looked pretty good, I'm not going to lie to you. Then again, Google Images is not (yet) scratch-and-sniff, and its always been the smell that brings me back to an unpleasant time and place, not the taste nor the presentation. The real test would be if I could actually make it through an entire meal without gagging.
With Continental's suggestion in my back pocket, just in case my tour guide for this excursion tried to lead me astray, I picked up the menu. I told my tour guide that I couldn't make heads or tails of anything on the menu, and asked for her suggestions. She said her favorite was something called...get ready for it...Chicken Tikka.
Now, its become a bit of a running gag that we seem to order the same thing at restaurants. So now what? Order the Chicken Tikka and continue the gag, or order something else and risk literally gagging? These are tough decisions.
Ultimately I went with the Chicken Tikka with the Tomato and Onion sauce, because the sauce differentiated it enough to make it a different dish. In my mind, anyway. You bet.
I managed to eat the entire thing, and I have to tell you, it wasn't half-bad. Actually, it was pretty damn good. Here's what I've figured out, scientifically. Apparently, for me, the Indian Food Experience is all about the company with which you experience it. With 4'8" college roommate guy, aka The Ol' 56er, it makes me want to gag. With other people, its actually quite delicious. Its all about the company you keep around the food.
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