There are few things I enjoy more in life than sharing a delicious meal with friends. After 54 hours of total travel time between Florianopolis and New Delhi, this has never been more true. After days of nothing but sitting on planes, waiting at gates, and squeezing in power naps whenever we could, we had all lost any concept of time. Never the ones to miss a meal, Judy and I joked that since we had no idea whether it was dinner time, breakfast, or lunch while we were travelling, we would probably just end up eating constantly—just to be sure.
Delhi is full of all sorts of things I’ve never seen before; things that are completely unfamiliar, but as we pulled up to the restaurant that our ISA guide, Anurupa, had taken us to, my eyes fixed on a word that I was quite familiar with. Barbeque. I’d never had Indian barbeque before, but knowing that I love both Indian food and barbeque, it didn’t seem like this place, an Indian chain called Barbeque Nation, could possibly let me down.
We were sat at long tables along one side of the large, modern restaurant. Our servers, clad in aprons and hairnets, immediately brought out all kinds of sauces and dips. Small fire pits were placed on the table and our server delicately balanced skewers of chicken, lamb, sausage, fish, shrimp, and vegetables above the flames. There was also a skewer of paneer—an Indian cheese. Abby went for the chicken first, and I went for the coconut-flavored shrimp. I took my first bite and was immediately satisfied with my decision, and as I looked across the table at the other excited faces across from me, I could tell that my fellow diners felt the same way about theirs.
Bite after bite. Skewer after skewer. We ate like kings and queens. It reminded me a lot of the churrasco in Brazil. The servers continued to bring us fresh sticks of meat as soon as we were done with another one. Eventually our pace began to slow and, we bent down the little flag on our table that meant no more. Just as I was about to remove my napkin from my lap and place it on the table, Anurupa walked up to our table with a concerned look on her face. “Are you all ready for the buffet now?” What buffet? “This was just the appetizer,” she said.
Somehow we found the courage and the space in our stomachs to scope out the buffet. Several types of colorful, fragrant curries lined the table along with chicken and vegetable biryani—the signature rice and meat dish of the southern city of Hyderabad—and several other dishes I had never heard of before, such as paneer do pyaza, mutton rogan josh, and vegetable makhanwala. I made sure to try a little bit of everything.
As I made my way along the buffet, I stopped to say something to Missy. When I looked up and saw her face, I immediately forgot what I was saying. Her skin was bright red and tears were welling up in her eyes. “What’s wrong?” I asked.
“I ate one of these,” she said. I looked down at her plate to see what she was pointing to: a pile of little, long, green vegetables. I’d seen these before.
“Those are green chilies!” I squealed.
With the heat spreading out across her face, she quickly responded, “I know that now! I’m going to go get some water.”
Missy wasn’t the only one who had made this error. Matt had popped three green chilies in his mouth at once, mistaking them for green beans, and Lizz had done the same. Their faces had all turned the color of a tomato and they were chugging water and stuffing naan in their mouths-- but with chilies, the only thing you can really do is wait.
We celebrated Hannah and Lizz’s birthday, which was the next day. The servers circled around and placed a pink birthday cake with sparkling candles on the table. They sang (yelled), “HAPPY BIRTHDAY. HAPPY BIRTHDAY.” Clap clap clap! We laughed and tried to sing along. With some delicious Indian desserts, such as gulab jammun and kesari phirnee, it was the perfect way to end our first meal in India.
Many people in the group had been wary about the food we would be eating in India. Our great experience at Barbeque Nation started us out on the right foot. It gave us confidence to accept all the unfamiliarity around us, which was something we needed. Even on the short bus ride back to our hotel that night, there was plenty of newness to face.