“…that and a threesome with two lesbians”, smiled my friend Cillian as we sat in Hotel Ceylon, tidying up a delicious mushroom masala.
“Hmmm, I don’t know”, I replied. “I still think food comes out tops”.
We were discussing the merits of food, eating and dining out. We were pretty much in agreement that the greatest pleasure in life was food.
“Did I mention that they were Swedish?”, Cillian added. OK, second greatest pleasure.
Cillian was only visiting for a few days so I’d taken this opportunity to introduce him to our favourite local eatery, Hotel Ceylon, right in the centre of Cochin. Their gravies, whether jalfrezi, masala or kadai, are second to none, and I have it on good authority the biryani is tops as well.
Getting a seat at Ceylon between 1pm and 2pm is nigh on impossible and normally means sharing a table with a local, greedily consuming their rice mixture with their hands. We found a small table in the corner and, after receiving our food, slowly worked our way through masalas, tomato fry, chapati and rice, all washed down with a lime soda. Despite the torrential rain and beeping horns outside it was a pleasant, relaxing time to catch up with a friend. We were only half way through our meal, however, when the bill was duly placed on the table by a hurried waiter, almost knocking my butter paneer on to the floor.
A cursory glance around the room suggested that there were at least five hungry diners waiting for a seat. Hotel Ceylon, like almost every other canteen, is packed at lunchtime with workers on their lunch break, looking to grab a bite before returning to work for the afternoon. They come for one reason and one reason only: to eat. Eating at lunchtime is far from a social occasion, however, it is a time to refuel. In many cases the locals eat on their own. This is contrary to my idea of eating in company, for at least an hour, sometimes with alcohol, and always for conversation. Like what I was doing with Cillian.
Back in the day when I had an office job refuelling meant a quick trip to Pret-A-Manger to pick up an expensive, poncey-named sandwich, which was taken back to the office and consumed over my keyboard at my desk. The difference here is that food in India is not only good, but cheap as chips too. Why bother with a packed lunch when the café round the corner produces food better than your grandma could make? No wonder these places are packed at lunchtime.
The waiter who gave us the bill was hovering near-by, ushering us out with his eyes. I could tell he was thinking we’re a bit odd taking our time, grazing over food and chatting away, surrounded by these mad locals scoffing at 100 miles an hour. Either way it didn’t matter, we were all enjoying some bloody good tucker.
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