A Taste of Heaven

November 21, 2016 — by Sanjana Melkote

Cafe in India brings people and food together

My uncle ripped through the traffic of the bustling streets in Bangalore, India, carrying three others, including me, on his motorcycle meant for two. But through the chaos of the people, animals, cars and vendors on the road, I saw — or rather, smelled — heaven approaching.

We quickly toppled out of our squished formation on the slim bike seat and for the first of many times in the summer of 2011, my entire family rushed to stand in line at India’s best breakfast stop, SLV Corner Restaurant.

This type of restaurant doesn’t offer a typical sit-down experience. The discord of the streets spills into the room as people push and shove each other to claim a spot at one of the standing counters.

Those who can’t squeeze themselves through the crowd stand outside, holding a gigantic steel plate with three servings of each menu item barely contained in it. The restaurant, only about half the size of an SHS classroom, brims with people shouting orders for coffee and Indian specialty recipes.

When we were there, I gripped my mom’s hand tight and wondered why all these people were going crazy over breakfast food. My 10-year-old self couldn’t fathom why anyone would voluntarily stand packed together in the 100-degree summer heat. A few minutes later, I took the first bite of the freshly made meal, and I understood.

Indian breads called idlis and dosas were dunked into  sauces called chutneys that screamed spicy with their bright red color and stuffed into my mouth at an increasingly rapid rate.

The flavors clash in theory, with hot tomato and green chili based sauce mixing with fluffy bread, but together they created the perfect balance of texture and taste. All I could do was savor this godsent food.

I had become one with the mob of hungry people, and with more rounds of food, I found myself migrating between different counters. Soon enough, I was eating with complete strangers, united only by an unspoken agreement about the high quality of this breakfast.

Many new people exchanged smiles with me, from schoolgirls my age to elderly grandparents sipping hot coffee, while talking about politics.

In this restaurant, the variety of conversation was endless. I didn’t even need to pick up a newspaper to find out about major events happening in India, as I got the scoop from others. At one table, a young man gave his opinion on the latest Bollywood movie, and at another table, I heard a woman complaining in Hindi to her friends about her back pain.

We were all mere strangers before walking in. But as we  unraveled our stories and shared slices of our lives, the language barriers, the age differences and the cultural divide all dissipated. We shared each other's laughter, joy and concerns.

I felt like part of a community, but in a way that I have never experienced in Saratoga, because I saw so many new faces in such a short span of time.

The purpose of this breakfast was not to isolate ourselves at a table, but to meet others with different outlooks, stories and lives. And it so happened that it was delicious food that brought all of us together.

As I walked out of the restaurant and hopped back onto my uncle’s bike I felt full, not only from the heapings of food I had eaten but also from happiness that this new experience gave me.

Now, back in school, I find myself skipping breakfast often, lazily tumbling out of bed in a rush to head to class. But when I get the chance to eat in that small cafe in India again, nothing  will stop me.  

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