An unobtrusive breeze snakes its way between the curtains; dusk has just fallen, and we’re in that sweet spot where everybody’s settled in but the night is still young. A candle flickers slightly, glasses clink, laughter erupts. The atmosphere in the room is heady, equal parts a result of wine and uninhibited companionship. Chairs scrape and cutlery falls into a harmonic rhythm as the group centers around bowls of prawn curry and rice. Glasses clink again.
The sweet, wrinkled old owner of our Goan homestay had insisted we stay in for dinner that evening, convinced that she would give us the best meal of our trip. And so we did, because who are we, a bunch of perennially starved adolescents, to say no to a free meal? I remember seeing, from the corner of my eye, her practiced hands flying around the kitchen. Prawns cleaned and waiting, spices ground, vegetables chopped, rice set to boil. I wish I had paid more attention. And then suddenly it appeared before us, heaping mounds of fragrant, fluffy rice and the most tender prawns, swimming in a tangy broth of coconut, sweet, sour and spicy all at once.
These are the evenings I chase after, the memories I hold most dear. Attempting to replicate them is futile, and each holds its own charm. Nothing wields the power to bring people together quite as food does. How far we’ve come from eating simply to live, to awaiting those meals that make us feel truly alive. Food is a central locus for families, friends and communities: this is the singular commonality across cultures and borders. Politics, ideologies and religion may divide, but food – food unites.
Moving to a new country was hard. Exciting for sure – the work was challenging, the lifestyle easy to embrace. But five months down the line, something was still lacking. I had friends in the city, but no real sense of community. Extracurriculars helped, and I threw myself into them, but too often I found myself wandering the grocery store at the end of the day still chasing something I couldn’t quite grasp. Today, I wandered with a hankering for prawn curry.
She was right – it was the best meal of our trip, and I’ve tried to replicate it countless times since, but to no avail. Still, the experiments spawned other almost equally successful attempts, and my taste testers (read: hungry friends) always come back with the same request for every dinner party. Why not then build around this: invite four friends, and ask each to bring a plus one that the others haven’t met before? We’d do it potluck style – I’d do mains and delegate the rest. If all went well, we’d plan one every month; if not, let’s chalk it up to a failed experiment.
The night arrives, and my guests pour in with starters, drinks and dessert. The curry is a hit; glasses clink, laughter erupts. We decide it was a success, and I now stand four friends richer. The prawn curry will never be the same, though.
by Mohit Gupta
as narrated by our guest Ms. Neena Desai