One of the many gifts of wandering is discovering new things. Food is no exception.
I am no survivalist. I am not even a rugged outdoorsperson. But my wandering mojo allows me to find new and interesting things on well worn paths in the Florida woods or crooked and broken up sidewalks in India and many places in between.
This is not the story of eating a big juicy bug with a million tiny quivering feet, or even risking the flora in my gut over Indian street food, but rather a love story involving four women, a rooftop and an agreeable young Indian man.
It’s probably not what you think.
Two years ago I visited Udaipur, Rajasthan. It was the last of nine towns in a three week journey through the north of India and by far my favorite. There was something settling about this place. Maybe it’s the water; the whole little town built surrounding, and sometimes in the middle of, the man-made lake. Perhaps it’s the kindness of the residents or maybe it’s the light. Whatever it was seeped into my bones and folded itself into my DNA. I felt home. I could sit for hours and alternately watch people, take pictures and right down random, seemingly profound thoughts.
On this particular evening, three fellow female travelers and myself tripped up five flights of narrow, uneven stairs to a rooftop cafe. The “cafe” presented about 10 tables, all empty except one ringed with six or so Indian men. There was a door to a single bathroom beside a dirty bucket beneath a dripping sink. The rooftop was ringed in a sturdy railing that afforded views of lower rooftops, bustling streets, the lake, and the entire town.
What it didn’t seem to have was a kitchen or a wait staff. We sat down anyway.
Shortly after taking our seats one of the men of the table of men walked toward us. With his hands clasped in front of him and a shy smile he asked what we would like.
“A pot of chai, please and four cups.”
“No problem.” The standard response accompanied by the traditional head shake.
He then sat back down. Curious.
In the meantime we chatted about the comfortable nothingness that begins to form great friendships. Time passed. No chai. Dinner was fast approaching.
But behind two of us the sun was making its descent and behind the other two the moon was beginning to rise. Two of us experienced the end of the day, while two of us ushered in the beginning of the evening. One side was fading from burnt orange to crimson, the other light pink to lavender. Our views were different, our experience shared.
The chai arrived, we continued our meandering conversation. Then naturally we became quiet, awed by the beauty of life and the world around us. We sipped our sweet spiced tea recognizing the value of the silence between us.
“Well, we should go.”
“Yep. Time for dinner.”
It is the sublimity of moments that create memorable meal sharing. Food can be delicious, mundane or nearly inedible, but it is the company that makes it special.