“Do you like Indian food?” asked Vinay, in all sincerity. Considering we were in the middle of India, I assumed the polite thing to do was answer in the affirmative.
“Oh, sure,” I said as convincingly as I could. I do, in fact; I just wasn’t sure what to expect and I’m no expert at identifying the various dishes. I didn’t want to appear ignorant.
We went into the cafeteria and my fears were allayed because there were only two choices on the menu: Northern Indian and Southern Indian.
“As long as you’re not worried about calories, I recommend the Northern,” he said, noting that both offerings were vegetarian. I went with his advice and we each picked up a large plastic cafeteria tray, the kind with the food dividers built in, a spoon (no knives or forks) and paper napkins. We scooped up portions of rice, beans, cucumbers and various condiments that just by the aroma indicated a healthy dose of spiciness.
We sat with two other colleagues and began to eat.
“What do you think?” they asked.
“Oh, it’s really good,” I said. “The naan is much sweeter than the States,” I added.
“This is not naan,” they said, almost in unison. They said it with just a hint of condescension, as someone from San Francisco might admonish tourists that “It’s not Frisco.”
I was then educated on the differences between the flat bread that is baked and poori, a deep fried version.
Sure enough, the food was spicy. I had grabbed a glass of water but then remembered the caution to stick with bottled water only. So the glass remained full while steam built in my ears. Fortunately, there was ice cream (which had a consistency somewhat more akin to pudding) for dessert and that quelled the fire somewhat.
Over lunch the conversation covered the same topics any co-workers would discuss: what’s wrong with our company, what we can do to improve it etc. But the lunchroom was filling up and people were waiting for tables. So we cut the chit chat and took our trays to the kitchen. In the States, most cafeterias have those little conveyor systems where people half-heartedly clear their trays, most of it being plastic and paper products. Here, you were expected to clear everything off your plate. Sponges and squeegies were provided. And since only the napkins were disposable, there was little waste.
Next to the kitchen was a “Sink Washing Area,” where you could wash your hands before returning to work. Nice touch.