LIGHT OF INDIA By Bob Brocklebank (Review)
The joys of Indian luncheon buffet
Retirement is proving to be hard work. Many evenings are occupied with meetings, rehearsals, movies at the Bytowne or tickets to the theatre; this leaves little time for a leisurely supper. The solution – a hearty lunch.
Lunch is often a better deal than dinner at Ottawa restaurants. Sometimes the menu offers lighter dishes at noon than in the evening. It can also be easier on the pocketbook because you don’t feel the same need to order wine or a pre-dinner drink when the sun is overhead. (I am cheap but try to hide my stingy ways when out in public.)
But for real value-for-money look for tasty food of which you can eat your fill for a flat fee. This is where you should be searching out Indian restaurants offering luncheon buffets.
Every part of the city seems to have at least one Indian restaurant. My neighbourhood (the Glebe) is particularly blessed with four strategically placed along Bank Street. I have enjoyed them all but have tended to mostly frequent The Light of India, with the Taj Mahal in second place.
Readers who have lived in India will probably scoff at my limited knowledge or understanding of the subtleties of Indian cuisine. So what! I am living proof that someone who has never visited India can still appreciate good food.
Permit me to guide you through lunch at the Light of India.
First trip to the buffet table, don’t miss out on the soup. Always with a lentil base and filled with vegetables, this gets your tastebuds ready for action. Pick up some pappadums (thin, thin cracker-like items that resemble crepes) to crunch with the soup.
Now back to the buffet table for serious eating. There is salad for those who are so inclined but you can have salad at home. In fact maybe after a big lunch, a small salad will be your dinner before you run off for your evening obligations. I go for the hot stuff. (And here I would note that millions of Indians eat hot and spicy food in blazing hot weather and it does them no harm. In fact some people think hot spicy food cools you down in the summer.)
Scoop a generous helping of rice in the centre of your plate. This will absorb the sauces to come, the best part of the meal. Now investigate the vegetable dishes. These change constantly but always include some deep-fried veggies such as onion bhaji or maybe squash. I am picky about fried food and go light in that category.
But what are the other vegetable dishes? Perhaps today offers cauliflower with chickpeas; maybe there is eggplant with tomato; quite likely there is spinach with potato. Chances are there are four different combinations – take some of everything.
Now comes the meat. Invariably there is tandoori chicken which my wife loves. I prefer the dishes with sauce. There is always one chicken in sauce and one beef in sauce dish. Take some of each.
By now your plate is overflowing. Find room somewhere to scoop some raita on your plate somewhere. This is important because raita (yogurt with cucumber and possibly some mild spices or herbs) is the Indian food “fire-extinguisher”. If you have not been following a training regime in Indian food (buffet once a week), you might find some dishes a tad spicy. The appropriate response is to have some raita; this quenches the flames in your mouth and throat.
But before you return to your table with your overladen plate, pick up a piece or two of nan (the bread cooked in the tandoor oven). The nan is used to supplement the rice in absorbing those delicious sauces.
Now you are back at the table enjoying the crazy mixture you have assembled on your plate. I’m not sure that in India people eat this way, mixing everything up, but it allows you to experiment with various combinations.
But now that you have rushed through your first plate, you know what you like best. Get a new plate and try a bit more of your favourites – your excuse is that you will have next to nothing for dinner and you have to keep up your strength.
Leave a little space for dessert if you have a sweet tooth. Sometimes you might find melon pieces, other times you could try creamy tapioca pudding or some mysterious brown balls in liquid. Or better yet, have some of each.
Now comes the arrival of the bill. If you haven’t ordered drinks and have simply stuck with water, you will be asked for just over twenty dollars (including taxes) for two. Along with the bill comes sticks of chocolate to savour. My habit is to leave twenty-five dollars and head for the door. But before you leave note that there are little bowls of caraway seeds at the doorway. Refresh your mouth with a few seeds.
Normally I have eaten to such excess that I find myself needing a nap in the afternoon. Oh well, that is what retirement is for! And besides it means I am wide awake for my evening activity.
Light of India is at 730 Bank Street. They have a good website, which is here.
Tags: Bob Brocklebank