Cheap Date for the Curious

We must preface this message by clarifying that no actual kittens were harmed in the writing of this blog post.

We have heard rumor that curiosity, did, in actual fact, kill that cat. Not Sumi, of course. She is just too suspicious to let curiosity get the better of her. Not us, though.

We had a bit of a lazy day today. We started out to send some mail, take a peek through the market again, and find a cup of tea. The heat and humidity picked up a bit as we found a place to sit down for a nosh and a cup of tea, referred to as a hotel, even though there is not necessarily a room to rent. We failed miserably trying to order a cup of tea, and after about five or ten minutes with a very patient hostess in a brilliant red and gold saree, she printed out a complete list of their offerings from the cash register in English and indicated we should point to what we wanted. Points for creativity. Our patient hostess brought scorching hot tea.

Fustrated and a bit warm, with plans for the day entirely up in the air we wandered back to our hotel (with rooms to rent, along with a cafe) for a rest. Rajeev came over to check in, make plans for the following day, and look at the wedding photos he had not yet seen. He was soon followed by Maveen and Sagar (another relative of Jyothi), and another friend. It was a mini party in a mini room.

When everyone went their separate ways we decided to go for a walk in the lovely park across the way since we had scarcely been out of the room all day. We did not anticipate a lack of streetlights through the park. Off the main street it was pretty black and impossible to see. We were not ready to go back to the room, but neither one of wanted to try to find a tea stall at that point, especially considering how dark it was and our vast command of Kannada.

We could have gone to the cafe at the hotel, or any of the two or three neighboring hotels, but we started to wonder what they served at the western-style coffee shop nearby. Of course, we assumed it would neither be truly Indian, nor truly western. Why not? It seemed like it was probably part of a chain, so the quality control might have franchise requirements. Curiosity got the better of us. Instead of heading up the green granite stairs of our hotel we turned and made our way past the wedding next door to the brightly lit red-and-white coffee shop.

Once inside, the coffee shop looked more like a fast food diner. We were greeted by two or three staff members and went to find a seat at one of their glass tables, none of which were very clean. A stainless steel pitcher of water and several stainless glasses were on the table, along with a laminated menu printed entirely in English. After much discussion we each ordered masala chai, knowing that it would not be the same as a real Indian masala chai. We hoped for something a little better than what is commonly served as “chai” in the U.S. Having only had a little bit of snack food since the morning we ordered a “veg puff” to share.

Our order was brought out on a bright red plastic lunch trey: Two paper cups filled with frothed milk, two tea bags each, and a plastic straw stir stick, along with a round, paper hamburger foil with a triangle of puff pastry on it. It came with a plastic packet of ketchup, which had the corner neatly clipped.

It was difficult not to sit there and giggle at the site of throw-away paper tea cups, with frothed milk on the top, and two tea bag strings hanging out. We both had the impression we were at a western-style coffee shop, similar to the chain we had been to in Bangalore. In Bangalore, we were distinctly reminded of Coffee People, down to the logo and slogan, only, with table service, and ceramic dishes. We looked at our fast food trey and just giggled. How could it be possible that we were sitting in India drinking tea out of a paper cup, made with tea bags? The tea was fine, and like all tea we’d had since we arrived, scorching hot.

We contemplated whether puff pastry was a tradition in India, or a convenient invention for those on the go. We had seen simmilar “puffs” at the airport coffee and tea stands, and at the Coffee People-like coffee shop in Bangalore. The puff was filled with a mildly spiced vegetable saute of sorts, and was also served scorching hot. It was fine, though a bit challenging to eat with fingers.

We found the ketchup packet a little odd, though, with its neatly clipped corner for easy dispensing. Anyone who knows Al knows that she can barely get ketchup past her nose, and never has been able to eat it. We were not surprised to receive the ketchup packet since, oddly, ketchup seems to be served with a lot of dishes, and even used as the base for sauces in some dishes. The carefully clipped corner was a bit much for our senses, though. We looked at it and chuckled.

There we sat, two gringos, one with a head of hair so blond it shines like a lighthouse, in a coffee shop that promoted itself as western-style. We assumed our presence there was free advertising. The place did seem to fill up while we were sitting there. We got plenty of stares for the other patrons, though no one flocked to our table and no one requested a photo. We are pretty certain we did get caught on camera sitting there. It was just like any ordinary fast food joint: hastily prepared, processed food, served on throw-away dishes. The only time anyone orders it is when they are in a real hurry. Truthfully, it was probably the first time we have sat down for fast food in about 12 or 15 years, and as impressive as the last time we did so. Of course, when we walked in we did not realize it was fast food.

We got back to our room just in time to hear the last evening prayers from the nearby mosque. It was a beautiful concert. And to top it off, as we sat giggling about the whole experience we noticed the waft of marijuana smoke blowing past our window from below. Not a bad date for 78 cents.

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