Spectator by Seema Goswami: Get vocal for local

What does one do when a celebrated chef – and friend – is visiting Delhi after a long gap? On popular demand, one ends up taking him to an equally celebrated restaurant, Bukhara, to taste the best that India has to offer. So, when Heston Blumenthal and his lovely new bride, Melanie, arrived in India – the last pit stop on their extended honeymoon – that’s where we headed.

When British chef Heston Blumenthal visited Delhi recently, he went to Bukhara just to eat the naan, dal and kebabs that the restaurant is known for. (Instagram/@spectatorseemA)

I was the first to arrive and settled down to wait, aimlessly scrolling through my phone, when my attention was caught by the next table, where three foreigners were trying to order their meal with the waiter’s help. It was clear that they had zero knowledge of Indian food, but that was fine, I thought. The menu at Bukhara is quite simple and abbreviated so how hard could it be to decide on what to eat?

Very, it turned out. Baffled by the array of kebabs on offer, they turned in desperation to the waiter and asked for a salad. The poor man blanched at this request but recovering quickly explained that they would get some sliced cucumber, onions and tomatoes with their meal. Ah, said one of the men, could you sprinkle some feta cheese on it and make it a Greek salad?

At this point, I am embarrassed to confess, I broke into loud giggles. But the waiter was made of sterner stuff. We don’t have feta cheese in the kitchen, he explained kindly. But we do have yoghurt. Will that do? The men looked unconvinced but conceded defeat with bad grace.

That’s when the rest of my party arrived and asked me why I was giggling fit to burst. When I explained, sotto voce, everyone was amused as well. Except for Heston, who was appalled. As a chef who takes pride in his food, he could well understand how insulting this was to the cuisine these men had come to sample at Bukhara.

Thinking back later, I couldn’t help but wonder why anyone would make a hard-to-get reservation at an iconic restaurant, and then ignore all the dishes they take pride in, and ask for – honestly! – a Greek salad. Given that these men appeared to be staying at the hotel, wouldn’t it have been simpler and cheaper – not to mention, more respectful – to just eat at the coffee shop that offers all kinds of international cuisines.

Even Indians who travel abroad often pick Indian restaurants instead of enjoying the local cuisine. (Alena Veasey / Shutterstock)

Why waste time and money coming to a legendary kebab place if all you want is ghaas phoos?

But I guess everyone’s attitude to food is different. For instance, I am always intrigued by my fellow countrymen who travel to Europe and England and insist on trawling the streets for Indian restaurants (where the food is invariably mediocre at best and inedible at worst) rather than enjoy the local cuisine.

And it’s not just Indians, of course. So many Japanese and Chinese tourists are just as adamant on sticking to eating the food of their own country no matter where in the world they find themselves. Americans will look for a burger joint in Italy and the English will search for their nursery-type food after a couple of days on the road.

So, who knows? Maybe the men at my adjoining table were from Greece and hence the bizarre request for a Greek salad at an Indian restaurant. Or maybe it was just that Indian food was all Greek to them!

From HT Brunch, May 20, 2023

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