Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Quickly, Please. I'm In A Curry.

The first time I ate Indian food, I absolutely did NOT get it. I was at a summer journalism camp at Syracuse University, with all the other nerds, and young enthused wordsmiths. I was hard at work finalizing my diabolical plan to revolutionize the high school newspaper (award-winning, you guys. AWARD-WINNING high school newspaper) that I was an editor of.

Not the editor. Just an editor.

I had a theory about “modular pages,” a term I coined. Coinage without value as it turns out, because unsurprisingly no one cared. And look, you still don’t care, and I’m still talking about it. I’ve been known to beat an idea to death, revive it with paddles (CLEAR!), and kill it again. Like right now. I’m Tracy Flicking. Hard. Ok, Frances. That’s enough.

At the time, we spent our days maturely discussing statewide publishing trends, and our nights doing the same, but in a non co-ed dorm with Biore strips on our noses. It just gets better, doesn’t it?

We were able to go off-campus for dinner, and in a dramatic blaze of free will, one night we went to an Indian restaurant around the corner. We inched up a flight of carpeted stairs and into a room constructed entirely of brass accessories and pure odor. It was a sensory circus: the saturated colors, the glinting gilded tableware, and a million olfactory notes whizzing through the air. The spicy-sweet warm buttery air worked its way into every nook and cranny, until I was not only breathing it in, but breathing it out as well.

I was on high-alert. This was sooo outside of my comfort zone. This in no way resembled the shells and cheese reservoir at Ponderosa, of which I was an expert witness on. Then was set before us a steam-puffing basket of that which makes the world go ‘round. Bread. Indian bread. Naan.

And a million tiny bowls of sauces.

At the time, my culinary experience was limited. The only thing I could cook was an omelet, which I therefore did almost daily. More of a scramble, really. “Omelet,” implies a certain technique which I did not have, and a finished product which it did not resemble. I also was eating a plate of plain pasta and a chocolate milk every day for lunch, so variety was a luxury I knew not of. (The pasta was a safe choice in an otherwise iffy cafeteria situation, and the chocolate milk was a drinkable dessert, justified by calcium contribution.)

But: I was no stranger to dunking.

My New York grandparents always had a pot of meatballs and sauce roiling on the stove. All day. One would walk by, give a stir, dunk some bread, and move on. My big Italian family would sit at the table in ever-shifting groups to eat wholly dunkable meals of bread and sauce. Meatballs were almost beside the point. 

During the summers, when we visited our friends at the beach, we would get huge piles of fries at a textbook beachy burger stand, and watch as our Maryland friends bathed theirs in vinegar, a very native and region-specific thing to do. But I was a dunker, and so I dunked. My fries still got a vinegar bath, but it was more like dipping their toes in, as opposed to full submergence.

LinkedIn, I do not understand. How my television can depend wholly and deceptively on the switch by the door in order to work, I do not understand. Ergo all of electricity as a concept, I do not understand. Why there would be an establishment titled “Donuts Plus,” around the corner from my house, when donuts are always enough in and of themselves, I do not understand.

But dunking. Dunking I do understand. I was a chicken nugget child. I eschewed the fast-food burger, to chew the chicken-based nugget, finger, or strip. Biscotti? Who cares! It’s a really really hard cookie that explodes in a fireworks display of crumbs at the first bite. But dunk it in coffee….Mmmmmmm, one cannot LIVE without biscotti! Fun Dip? It was crap! Literally a plastic stick you licked in order to cover with rainbowed sugar so you could eat it straight, basically a fourth grade American Psycho moment if you ask me. BUT, it required you to dunk, and was not therefore merely a snackarine nightmare, it was an activity!

And so I looked at that Naan. It looked at me. I looked at the million (five) tiny bowls of sauces. They looked at me. Suspiciously, I might add.

And. I. Dunked.

It was a revelation. “I LOVE Indian food!,” my Tracy Flick thought bubble said. “You said that out loud,” the people at my table said.

And so the other night, when I found out it was the last night for Wheel Food Wednesdays at Jones Coffee in Pasadena, and that the India Jones Chow Truck would be there- neither rain nor sleet nor snow could keep me from my duty to get sauced. Especially since we never have any of those things in Los Angeles anyways.

Jones Coffee is an establishment close to my heart. I love coffee, coffee shops and cups, and coffee people. And the fact that this particular coffee house also has food trucks every week all summer, I’m surprised I ever leave.

I’m so used to chasing down trucks one by one like a foodie version of COPS, (although anyone who knows me knows it’s more like RENO: 911) that to turn a corner onto a bustling circle of trucks, eaters, and a band is an embarrassment of riches. I waved hello to my friends at The Hungry Nomad Truck, The Sweets Truck, and Grill ‘Em All, and headed for India Jones and my Last Currysade.

I had the Combo: Butter Chicken and Veggie Coconut Curry over rice. I like Combos when they’re pretzel tubes filled with cheese from CVS, and when they’re two things paired together wisely. This Combo was MessySaucySpicyCreamy affection, poured over a bed of fluffy rice so you can master it all with a fork.

Texturally, this dish is a spelling bee winner: confident, smart, and constantly surprising you. Just when you think it might be overly creamy…It’s Not! Because that’s a crunchy broccoli crown to keep you on your toes. Maybe a little too spicy….? NOPE! Here comes some cool tropical coconut to put out that fire. Too many vegetables? Chicken over here! Perfectly cooked and bite-sized!

It was so, so good. I sat in Jones, ate my scrumptious curry and rice, and thanked my younger self for not chickening out like I really really wanted to, that day a million years ago, when presented with a million (five) tiny bowls of sauce.

And I raised a guilt-inducing eyebrow at my current self, for still not being able to make a proper omelet. It’s time, Frances. Get on that.

Your Weekly Misfire:

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