I normally eat lunch at our clinic, a simple meal of dhal, rice and vegetable curry. But today the big boss came to pay us a visit, so we went out to a nearby restaurant for some rich Punjabi food.
There is no door. One wall of the place is missing, and that’s where you enter. Forget air conditioning. The restaurant only has half a dozen tables, each with a small glass of thin, green chillies and a plastic bag of paper napkins. The waiters know us, after all, we are the only white folks within five kilometres. It’s a great place to eat non-vegetarian food, as evidenced by a quartet of fat, sweaty coppers eating at the corner table. In the other corner, there was a sous chef topping and tailing chillies and another peeling small onions incredibly quickly, with a well-practised four stroke routine using a razor-sharp knife.
Our waiter knew some rudimentary English, but it was a bit of an ordeal taking our order. We wanted a whole chicken, jointed, cooked and covered in a spicy yoghurt sauce, half an order of rogan josh (mutton curry), tarka dhal (easy on the ghee), two butter naans and a roti.
The waiter knows we are medical, so he showed me three tablets he was taking. I hadn’t a clue what they were for, so he brought me his doctor’s note. “I have fever,” he said. The note said “Typhoid Widal test 1/80 positive titre”. The big boss stared at the paper and looked concerned. I tried to reassure him saying, “I think his doctor suspected typhoid, but I wouldn’t get too worried at a titre under 1/160. Widal testing is not very effective. They have a fancy IgM test which is much more accurate nowadays.”
We asked the waiter what medication he was taking apart from the white, blue and yellow pills. The big boss said, “I bet it’s cipro!” But it wasn’t a heavy duty antibiotic; it was paracetamol. A nervous silence befell the table. Our bottle of cold water arrived, with three plastic cups inside stainless steel mugs. The big boss’s confidence was marginally bolstered.
The waiter brought us some amuse bouche – a complimentary plate of papaya chunks sprinkled with spicy salt. There wasn’t enough spicy salt on the fruit, so I asked for some more. The waiter went back to the kitchen hatch and came back with a three finger pinch of spicy salt, which he sprinkled on the papaya. We all looked at each other, and then at the papaya. The big boss didn’t eat any. A salad of sliced onion, tomato and cucumber came next with some pale green watery chutney served as a starter.
Full of diagnostic confidence, I ate 90% of the papaya. It was delicious with spicy salt. I had a great view of the kitchen and could see one chef with a metre long stirring spoon, cooking onions in a massive wok. What’s that saying about supping with the Devil?
The chicken was excellent, moist, tender, tasty, just lightly charred by the tandoor. The tarka dahl resembled thick, lumpy, brown porridge and smelled delicious. It was much darker and more viscid than usual. The mutton came last, two chunks of melting sheep meat falling from the bone, marooned in a maroon-coloured sauce. The butter naans were hot, crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, glistening with butter. Excellent.
It was far too much for three of to eat comfortably, but we just managed it. The restaurant is expensive for Jahangir Puri. The bill came to £8 with tip. After the plain fare I am used to, this unctuous food was a real delight. If I ate here every lunchtime, I would soon resemble my fellow swimmers at Delhi Municipal Corporation Pool. Unless, of course, it does turn out to be typhoid…