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Delhi: The Lament of the Hungry Ex-Expat

Dave Prager

I spotted the Indians entering Denver's Botanic Gardens about fifty feet ahead of us. It was their clothes that got me excited: both ladies in the family wore saris. I nudged Jenny with excitement. She sighed. 'Dave, this is getting creepy.' Creepy? Since when is it creepy to follow strange Indians around a park hoping to catch their eyes, start a conversation, win their trust, become friends, exchange numbers, and accept an invitation to dinner-all because I want to eat homemade Indian food again? I mean, doesn't every American who once lived in Delhi do that? * * * The year-and-a-half my wife Jenny and I lived in Delhi's Hauz Khas Market neighbour-hood changed me forever. Not just because of the career boost from my promotion to the Gurgaon office. And not just because the book I wrote about Delhi is spinning through HarperCollins India's printing facilities even as this essay goes to print. No, it's mostly because now that I am gone, my stomach forces my brain to view every Indian I see as a potential conduit to the food I miss so much. I'm not trying to be creepy. I just miss the food. Before we moved to Delhi, I had no appreciation for the dynamics of the cuisine. I was perfectly content with the cheapest Indian buffet serving the stalest garlic naan and the driest tandoori chicken. In those innocent times, every dish on every menu sounded equally exotic and exciting; I would order whatever I didn't recognize and, with full ignorance as to both the quality and the composition of what I was eating, enjoy every bite of it. But in the years since we have left Delhi, not a single Indian restaurant has achieved even the standards of my office canteen's watery dal. I have yet to taste a paneer as milky and smooth as that from Saket Select Citywalk Mall food court. And even Singapore's top-rated Indian restaurants were just a distant echo of what was, to me, the gold standard of Indian food: the meals our maid Ganga would cook for us three times a week. (Wikipedia tells us that Annapurna is the Hindu goddess of food; experience tells us that Ganga is her earthly manifestation.) We have tried the trendiest Indian restaurant on Denver's South Pearl Street, the Singapore branch of Saravana Bhavan, and a dhaba in the back of a suburban Indian grocery ...

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