I sympathize with the Indian expat in Sweden who paid 1000 rupees (around 50 Dhs) for a plate of comfort food, as I also pointed out when buying tomatoes in Saudi Arabia.
The expatriate received a huge outpouring of sympathy from Internet users who were angry with the presentation of the plate of “chola batura” and its price.
For the uninitiated, ‘chola batura’ is a soft, fried bread dish, with chickpeas cooked in spices.
The pleasure of eating this bread is to quickly bite into the puffed bread and almost burn your hand when the steam escapes. The waiter brings the dish to your table with the bread piled up on the plate that looks like brown balloons waiting to be popped.
Over the years, I had to take a handkerchief out of the box on the table and soak the oil in the fried bread for a few minutes, while curious people watched, wondering what was going on. (Most Indians think oil is good for you and clarified butter (ghee) is even better).
The ‘chola batura’ arrived on the expat’s table delicately and aesthetically presented by the chef, with the chickpeas resting on the bread, which looked sadly deflated.
I quote the disappointed expat: “For those curious about the taste: Well, that was bad. The “batura” was sweet, super thick and almost dry. The ‘chole’ was like ‘palak paneer’ but with ‘channa’ instead (AND WHO ADDED THE (expletive) THE POMEGRANATE ??). The taste of cholé was bland. No prominent spice or “masalas”.
At the start of the expatriate migration from India to the Gulf, one could take all the necessary spices such as red chilli powder and turmeric powder (the latter has now become a hit in western countries where it is added pudding and called Golden Milk Latte, or something like that).
And nutritionists today say that chili is good for you because you sweat and cry while eating, saying it cleans the pores and helps in detoxification.
Indian moms were working in the kitchen just before expats left for their flight, preparing various pickles, with lime, mango and shrimp pickles being the most treasured and eagerly awaited by nostalgic expatriate friends.
But while mothers took care of the culinary supplements, expats still had to shop in supermarkets. “OMG, look at the price of the tomatoes,” I said to my wife, while calculating how much it was in Indian rupees.
I love mangoes and the cost in a souk in Jeddah was astronomical. “Let’s just buy a kilo and see how they are,” my wife would say, not knowing that once you start eating mangoes you can’t stop. A kilo gave us a large mango and a small one. “Let’s stop calculating in rupees,” she advised.
(Many years later in Bangalore, I kept saying the exact same thing to my wife: “OMG, look at the price of tomatoes” vegetables and fruits “Look at the ridiculous price of” benishan “(” banganapally “) mangoes”!
A few years ago in Canada we took our friends for a ‘dosa’ treat to Mississauga and were warned that if we did not reserve our table in advance the wait would be an hour or more. (The crowd must have been because of all the IT guys in Canada from Bengaluru, Telangana or Chennai).
As I had become a bit sophisticated over the years, I didn’t look at the bill with glasses when it arrived, but had to pull out my credit card to pay it because the money in my pocket was not enough. (A dosa cost CAN $ 8, around 430 rupees).
Meanwhile, if you have a craving for mouth-watering “shawarma” and you are nostalgic for Arabic and Turkish cuisine, never eat “shawarma” at a restaurant in India. It’s quite sad and you would also be disappointed, just like our expat who was served a cold and sweet ‘chola batura’.
Mahmood Saberi is a storyteller and blogger based in Bengaluru, India. Twitter: @mahmood_saberi