A recent journal excerpt:
Sitting in a little streetside place, sipping chai as locals eat aloo paratha. Chai waking and warming me up. These little places – can I even call them restaurants? – are my favorite. Serving up chai and chapathi and simple meals of rice and dal and maybe some veggies, they all house a single, tiny table in back that seats about eight strangers. The walls are plastered with posters depicting lord Krishna in various incarnations. I watch the old man (owner?) hover over the stove, charring chapathi and cooking onions to prep for the day, adding spices from refashioned plastic jars that once held things like Vicks VapoRub but now just look dusty (or spicy) from use. The other, younger man chops veggies, holding them by hand rather than relying on a cutting board. A crimson-clad monk takes the seat next to me. We smile as we share the experience of watching the man in control of our breakfast.
“Good food,” he says.
I smile and gush about my love for paratha. I learn that he comes here every day. We relax back into our benches as the radio plays in the background, the noise of passerby on the small street increasing as the morning gets on.
Fire spills up from below the chapathi like a cushion supporting that beautiful meeting of cast iron and searing dough. I think about how much I’d rather be here than the trusty guide book favorites (even though that banana pancake yesterday was heavenly), that I want to just stay in India, eating at places like this, maybe one day learning these old men’s secrets, how they achieve the perect char-to-doughiness ratio in their chapati and paratha, what the ideal spice mix is for a standard pot of dal. For now I’ll just sip my chai, enjoy the company of strangers, watch light spill in from over the mountains, and observe the master at work.