Day 67: India
This was supposed to be one of the “big days”. I was going to drive down to Artesia, known for its stretch of “Little India”, to stop into sweets shops, try a few different regional Indian restaurants and take pictures standing next to colorful wraps hanging down in store windows. But this Personal Food Project in Blog Form is most likely well into its second half. Options are dwindling and quite frankly, so is money. Driving distance, gasoline and the cost of the food itself is really starting to take its toll. I need to find some honest work quickly or I quite literally won’t be able to pay my rent at the end of the month. So I have to start picking my battles a little. There is still at least one very expensive and massive day coming up (China) and quite a lot of countries where the only real option is a pretty far drive. So, sadly, India has to take the hit. Tonight, with GirlfriendBites’s parents in town and offering to buy dinner, we go to a well regarded Indian restaurant very close to our house which specializes in Kerala, a south Indian regional cuisine.
Kerala cooking is said to be fairly spicy by Indian standards, and while that’s fine for GFB and me, her parents have a much lower tolerance. Our humble, smiley and very moustached server comes to take our order and I ask for recommendations on Kerala cooking. “Are you going to Kerala?” he asks.
“No,” I say. “I’ve just had a lot of other Indian food and would love to try it.”
“Oh,” he replies, now very pleased. “Our Kerala dishes are not on the menu. But here…”
He writes down some off-menu Kerala options and hands the piece of paper to me, then GFB and I discuss possibilities while her parents negotiate spice levels. Orders are placed and I sip salt lassi, enjoying it, but still longing for the delectable version from Pakistan Day. While waiting for our food we discuss how strange it seems that we haven’t had Indian food yet on the project. It’s not that we feel like we should have, but that we feel like we already have. Indian food is one of the most influential foods in the world and has spread (with some help from British colonialism) everywhere from Singapore to South Africa. I feel like I’ve eaten Indian food about twenty times already, and in some form, I probably have. The number of countries with Indian influenced curries, roti and the like is pretty staggering. So while, in a way, it feels like I’m hoodwinking India out of its day in the sun, in reality, the entire project has become a passionate dance to the love song that the world has already written about Indian food. It’s everywhere, and just about everybody loves it.
GFB’s mom works her way through a perfectly respectable chicken tikka masala (as GFB points out “Has anyone ever had a bad chicken tikka?”) while her dad eats kebab over a mountain of rice. But it’s the real Kerala food that has me excited. “Chicken roast”, which is a plate of on-the-bone nuggets of spicy fried chicken served with appam, a slightly sweet, thin and very stretchy white pancake made from fermented rice flour. The appam is also filled with tiny holes caused by bubbles when it is cooked, giving it an amazingly airy quality. The fried chicken nuggets are dark, spicy, juicy and crisp, but are also a lot of work to get off the bone, especially when you’re trying to put it inside your appam. But sometimes the extra work makes it taste better, and this stuff is really nice. It’s totally different from any other Indian food I’ve had, which makes me particularly happy.
Our other Kerala dish is a fish curry, to which GFB and I have somewhat opposite reactions. Large pieces of boneless fish, clung to by imported southern Indian tamarind and nestled into a thick orange-ish curry. GFB likes the fish, but thinks the curry is too intense, while I find the fish pieces to be a little dry and boring, but love the curry. Granted, the curry does take some getting used to. It’s creamy from the inclusion of coconut milk (a popular addition in Kerala cooking), slightly tart from the tamarind and has all of the flavor which abandoned the fish during cooking. I recommend taking a sip of the curry by itself to really appreciate its delicate and subtle flavors. This food is different, for sure, but since when is that a bad thing?
GFB and her parents start talking about the business (they all do work together) while I lean against the wall next to our booth and allow my mind to wander for a minute. Groups of happy Indians come and go, no doubt quite pleased that they’re able to come here to get a good Indian meal that’s not all the way down in Artesia. After all of the Indian inspired dishes I’ve come across thus far, eating them at food stands, fancier restaurants and hole-in-the-wall places alike, there’s something a little poetic about, once the day itself has arrived, being able to eat a really good version that’s right near my house. I mean, Indian food has spread to just about every corner of the globe, so why the heck not Culver City, right?
10406 Venice Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232
Food Breakdown: 2 non-alcoholic beverages, garlic naan, 2 bread sides, 4 entrées
Distance From My House: 1.5 miles