Chini kum, talumein zyada
The next day, SOC sent me a delivery I hadn't ordered: each of my favourite dishes, plus their specials, and a thank you note that I still have
Through the lockdown, I have been a virtuous eater. I've steamed vegetables, minced amla, made bread, sprouted dal, souped chicken, roasted eggplants, baked sweet potatoes, pickled beets, chopped salad, toasted nuts, veganed the ice-cream (with frozen bananas), boiled corn, sautéed palak, rationed butter, and yes, even made that damn chutney with watermelon rind. When the kirana lady tried to sell me Maggi, I smiled beatifically behind my mask and languidly shook my head.
But then, after months of success in healthy, happy eating, I received a WhatsApp message from the proprietor of Spice of China (SOC), serving Mahakali in style since 2003.
Spice of China matters to me for three reasons—sliced pork in oyster sauce, chicken and vegetable clear soup and a phone call.
For many years, I had a standard order at SOC of the two items I mentioned above. Then, in the winter of 2006, I went to Meerut for a shoot. By day we ate well—shakarkandi chaat, parathas and white butter. But, by night we depended on our hotel food which was awful, except for one item—Talumein soup.
Talumein soup does not have a Wikipedia entry, but every urban Indian knows it's vegetably, noodley, soy-saucy, cornflour-y excess. Yes, we thought ourselves too sophisticated for it, but on those cold nights, it was our friend and re-connected us to its desi
On a rainy monsoon night, months later, I suddenly felt a craving for it, so I ordered some. From SOC, of course. A few minutes later, my landline rang. It was Spice of China. "Ma'am you ordered Talumein soup? It's a thick soup." "I know that!" I said indignantly. "Ma'am but, you always order clear soup, so wanted to make sure there was no mistake in the order." Surprised I asked, "Do you keep notes on customers?" "No, we just get to know your taste from your order after some time. I'll send now," he replied, leaving me with a big smile and warm and fuzzy feelings. I mentioned this story in a column I wrote in another paper at the time. The next day, SOC sent me a delivery I hadn't ordered: each of my favourite dishes, plus their specials, and a thank you note that I still have. That incident made me think, home isn't just the place you know well. Home is the place where they know you well.
But, yesterday's WhatsApp message from SOC broke my heart and made me mad. "We serve only Indo-Chinese food," it said, mentioning paneer chilli prominently. "None of our raw materials is made in China. Some sauces are from Malaysia" in response to the Boycott Made in China calls.
Not only is this boycott a fake swadeshi movement. It is fake swadeshi. If all you can do is reduce fellow citizens trying to make a living in hard times, to craven, fearful beings who must prove their Indiannes, then your dil is definitely not Hindustani. That dil is in the apnapan-based business model that Spice of China once showed me, winning my loyalty forever. TV-jumping Break In India people—no one is going to do one-by-two of their soup with you until you bully them.
So, I made the call. "Spice of China? Please deliver one American chopsuey and one Talumein soup." Forget the healthy food goals. Aur bhi virtue hain zamane mein.
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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