That blue dot represents where I am right now, where I’ve been for many hours; the only other pin on the map is Masala Box. I suppose that’s because Google know(s) that my phone has been there too, but my phone has also been all over the entire area of that screen selection several times. I wonder why Google didn’t pin more places besides Masala Box?
It must be a sign. “Write about Masala Box”, the sign says.
So, I shall.
I probably won’t look at Masala Box (MB) on Yelp because I can only imagine the nasty reviews. Maybe there is one that is sensible and kind, but Yelp doesn’t seem to be a place for much of that. [I am so wrong. I peeked at Yelp anyway, and am pleased by the kindness and accuracy of what I found there: 4.5 stars!]
When I walked into MB, I saw some samosas on the right in a warmer and it appeared that the place was a sort of take out counter with an odd assortment of drinks on the left in a cooler, a few odds and several ends on display next to it, and a couple of card tables set up near the window, possibly for dining in. There was a food menu on a dry-erase board and for drinks, a few alcoholic selections as well as soft drinks in that corner cooler.
I grabbed two samosas from the warmer and put them into a paper bag and walked to the counter to order some dry erase items. In my mind I had pictured “dining in” but I was not at all sure how I might do that now that I was out of my mind and actually inside Masala Box.
A man is on the phone at the counter as I approach with my samosa bag. He is
patiently condescendingly brusqely pedantically finally done with explaining to the other person that there is no buffet this is not Americanized Indian food no, there is no buffet so it does not matter if it is lunch or dinner 7 days no, no buffet the food is prepared to order from various regions of India there is no cheese no buffet ever thank you for calling.
The man turns to me after rolling his eyes at the phone and then begins to talk about the value of good customer service. He asks me if I want to order take out and I say that I was hoping to dine in. “Good, very good”, he says, and I swear he comes around the corner and grabs my samosa bag from my hands and pulls them out with tongs putting them back into the warmer. For dining in, you will have a plate and real silver ware “not plastic”, he says, and I will bring you fresh samosas. Everything is made to order so it will take time. “What will you like from this menu”, he asks me, pointing to the smudged white board.
I order this:
VEGETARIAN FRICHIK (a vegan mock chicken) VINDALOO OVER RICE
VEGAN BHAT MASALA (BAINGON-ALOO-TOMATO)
He repeats that it will take time and I smile and nod.
The lassi is a good dessert he says, and he will bring me water too so I say yes please but no ice as I sit down at the card table by the window. I pull some cardamom pods from my pocket and place them on the table. I will use them later and they may also let him know that I was not looking for a buffet. I am getting settled and looking around and he has disappeared into the kitchen and reappeared magically beside my table with real metal table ware, a nice paper towel napkin, a spotless paper plate with blue trim, and a sturdy plastic cup containing water at the ideal temperature and another one with OMG this mango lassi is delicious, the best I have had!
Soon, several other people come in, all of them east Indian and all of them ordering take out. They come in and leave. Come in and leave. It keeps happening all the time I am here. No one is looking for a buffet.
The naan arrives, wrapped in foil, and it is huge. It has a delightful char in places and tastes of wood smoke. The vindaloo is next, in a large bowl (an old pyrex mixing bowl) and has the ideal amount of sauce to cover but not drown. A large bowl of perfect basmati rice is next, and not a single grain is stuck to its neighbor, nor is a single grain undercooked.
By now my paper plate has become a gorgeous platter on a wood table in a home filled with color on another smoky continent and I close my eyes and dream as I taste, listening to the children and laughter, and the smells, thousands of them, and the sweat rolling down my cheek mixing with joy and . . .when I open my eyes, there is the man smiling at me holdng the last mixing bowl, steaming bhat masala, and on the table is another paper plate with blue trim.
I tell him how extraordiarily good the food is and that his service is exemplary, and we are still talking as his wife walks in to join the conversation. I am honored that they speak to me as an equal but I say nothing about it. And then we find that they are neighbors of a friend of a dear friend from a former church and they are so delighted that I am enjoying the meal.
I will bring two boxes, he says without asking, and he tells me to put the rice on the bottom of that one and what to put in each box and here is a coffee cup for the sauce. When I have filled the cup with the remaining sauce he takes it from me, squeezes the top and tapes it closed, putting it all together into a plastic bag that came from somewhere else entirely.
I resist the urge to say “Namaste” and simply offer my smile and a thank you from my eyes and my heart.
I hope to see you again I am thinking . . .