Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Day or Two (even Three) in Dallas


May 30

I have never considered myself a food person. I mean, I like to eat as much as any other average person, and when I’m really hungry then I like to torture myself with thoughts of soft, squidgy chocolate chip muffins or creamy hummus with a hint of lime and thyme. Good meals do make me happy. But it is not like true love. I don’t daydream for hours, or even days about a certain kind of pasta, I don’t spend hours browsing websites (Pinterest!) and salivating over pictures of food that is so pretty it is almost art, or work myself into throes of insanity thinking about gol guppay, till everything else disappears and the paper-thin, fresh, sunlight colored spherical bowls into chickpeas and tangy masala sauce. Nor is the result of food complete satiation, utter ecstasy and replete joy.

That was before I had spent five months in America. St. Louis has a lot of great food but not enough halal options and for a while now, I have been pondering over writing about my longing for chicken tikka. Breast piece, imli ki chatni, with a paratha. Diet Coke or if I really want to stir up some nostalgia, give me a Pakola.

There is a small place (what is the English equivalent for a dhaaba? A cross between a vendor and a kiosk? Maybe a really tiny shop/café?) in Gizri, Karachi called Fancy BBQ. My family and I would go there and order a whole feast: bun kababs, seekh kabobs, chicken tikkas, parathas, naans and it would never fail to amuse us when the bill would be a few bucks. Just enough to finance a burger and fries in America. We would sit in our car and eat, passing metal trays and little plastic cups of chutney, helping each other demolish the food and then asking for the tracing paper tissue at the end. 
Cajoling our dad to tip the waiter twice the amount his instinct told him to pay. It was definitely one of those few spaces where none of us fought. A happy family meal.

Then the two sources of tikkas in LUMS: the greasy one in a box that you’d get at the khokha. The man would warm it up in the microwave and it would take forever to open the little packets of chutney, which would then seep into the box and make it all soggy. Fahad got that every now and then and we’d sit on a sidewalk and I’d steal his chicken. Then there was Zakir tikka, where the food was warm and we’d sit on the rooftop in the cold or the muggy warm days or the breezy spring days. The tikka was fresh but there wasn’t any tamarind chutney, and we’d usually have it with naan.

So, for the longest time I was craving halal barbeque. And then I came to Dallas. Warm, sunny, and filled with desi people. And if there are enough South Asians around, you can be sure there are more than enough restaurants to feed these people! The first day I had my tikka! In a grocery store-cum-restaurant, with a menu that was enough to turn me into a dumbfounded, salivating statue. So I turned my face away from all the options and said I just want a tikka! Sprinkled with lemon juice, soft, warm naan and mint chutney. Papery napkins, women in loud colors and men talking in familiar languages and tones, little kids running around, dupattas, and skin the color of my skin.
Who else calls diabetes ‘shoogurr’? Or having high blood pressure, ‘koles-trol’?

Everywhere we go, I see Pakistanis and Indians and it is awesome. I saw the pretty water garden, which was more water and less gardens, flowing down concrete steps at dizzying angles, in a pool the color of serenity, and spurting from fifty fountains in perfect harmony lit up in changing neon colors. The stockyards with its Texan appeal pouring out in the cobbled paths, men in cowboy hats riding horses with straightened hair, and steakhouses on every corner with huge cow heads staring straight at you with stoic expressions. All the kiddie coin-operated rides were four-legged animals you can ride (there was a horse that three kids rose all together: one on the back, one hanging on for dear life on the tail and the other splayed out on the front legs).
So much meat, so much fried food and bursts of mist spraying under canopies to combat the heat.


I like Dallas. And I have to admit, my favorite part is that I can walk into a shop where I will address the old guy behind the counter as “uncle” and be able to order a malai chicken roll paratha.   


                                  

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