Sittable Feast: What We Eat

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And why not follow beverage with food? Why not place a steaming, yellow plate of egg curry on the floor in front of your crossed legs, the old standby we eat at least once a day? Or how about a starchy, sticky mound of kichuri, a.k.a “hodge-podge,” the Bengali social equivalent of mac-n-cheese? Or a tray of momos, those delectable dumplings I’ve been mentioning since Dharamsala? Yes, today we will feast, here at Chez Akhil Bhavan, where the concrete floor is your dining room table and your right hand is your silverware.

I’ll skip our typical post-tea breakfast (usually nothing more than pan-toast with butter) and jump straight to lunch, eaten well after midday and always consisting of some kind of chilli-curried vegetable-and-potato stew, poured atop a ridiculous amount of white rice. Dinner is taken at 10 pm, and consists of some slight variation of the previous meal—except when we go out for momos at Lovely’s, or because of time constraints, opt for the lazy-man’s pot of instant Maggi noodles.

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Like everything else in these parts (language, music, dress, etc.), the food is a blend of Bengali, Indian, Chinese, and Nepalese cultures, and it is difficult to discern the origin of what I’m getting. The one item that is not available is continental, or Western cuisine, the comfort-food plates of spaghetti and banana pancakes that were available in all the tourist towns we visited across the north. Here in Birpara, there are no tourists, not even any foreign NGOs, or fancy boarding schools (in fact, in our three weeks in town, I have met exactly one foreigner: an African-American Bible teacher from New Orleans who I’ve not seen since our brief discussion in the Internet shop). Mind you, I’m not complaining—such isolation is what we were seeking, after all. Plus, after sitting with starving families each day, it’s difficult to complain about being denied something like peanut butter or pizza.

So eat up, everybody, and don’t waste a single grain of rice. If you’ve properly proportioned the masala gravy-to-grain content of your plate, it will all stick to your fingers which you can feel free to suck clean, knuckle-deep in your mouth.

Finally, show your gratitude to the cook with a hearty, soulful belch. Perfectly acceptable and immensely relaxing, as food settles in belly, and your thanksgiving for being fed resounds in the warm air.

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