“Americans can’t adjust because there’s no such thing as an American. Variety is in the name.”
I sat back and thought about this as I looked at my Indian friend. We were having a delicious lunch that Nisha had cooked, and she had asked me whether I was sick of Indian food yet. I admitted that, while I wasn’t sick of it, I was certainly missing the variety I used to have in my diet.
It’s never felt like a strange concept to eat everything under the sun. Tonight we’ll have Thai. Tomorrow sushi. Salad for lunch. Risotto for dinner. This weekend we’ll grab a burritto. The quintessential American ‘restaurant’ tells us to “have it your way.” We don’t consider that almost everyone else in the world subsists on whatever type of food is native to their country.
And in India, unless you’re in the very very top bracket of people who can afford fancy expensive ‘alternative’ restaurants, most people eat Indian food pretty much every day of their life. They’ll get some fast food or pizza here and there, but the concept of variety is really mostly limited to whether you’ll have roti or rice.
It’s always strange whenever I get reminded that the American way of doing things isn’t necessarily normal across the world. But maybe people don’t mind eating the same thing because it’s comfort food. And I think I have a better understanding of this after getting a little taste of my own comfort food here in Bombay.
I noticed it a few weeks ago – I was driving in South Mumbai and suddenly, like a flash or like a person you see unexpectedly in the wrong place, I noticed a sign with a very familiar symbol and name: Le Pain Quotidien. For those of you who have not had the pleasure to eat at one, it’s a Belgian chain that focuses on the art of bread and everything delicious that can go on it. And in New York I eat there as much as possible.
So the first minute I could grab Daniel to go, we drove into town and sat down at a table. It was bizarre – this just wasn’t India. It was like any other Pain Quotidien. Communal tables. Counter with bread behind it. Menu with tartines and mint lemonade. My comfort food. This wasn’t just in the ballpark of something I was used to, this was a place where I could have recognized the food anywhere.
I ordered a sundried tomato, mozerella, prosciuttio and olive tapenade tartine. It tasted like home. It was like being at an Embassy – I may physically have been in India, but I was in Belgian territory.
In that moment I could have agreed to eat this food every single day. I got it: people want what they know. They don’t mind eating something every day if it’s embedded in their system.
I do suspect though, that once I’m in a place again where I have Le Pain Quotidien and all my other favorites, I’ll stop appreciating the idea of consistency. I’m still an American after all.