Halfway through my two-week stay in Mumbai, I thought it was about time I dared something local; dinner-wise. So I head off to the mall next to the hotel I’m at, and walked my way to the food court in search of the perfect चाट chaat Indian savoury snack to fill my stomach that is still a bit full from a lunch buffet.
The first time I got to try chaat, my Indian officemates placed the order for me. So I trusted my memory to come up with the same dish. But upon placing my order, the person at the counter had a puzzled look on his face. I was definitely saying something wrong and English is something he does not fully understand. In panic, I turned my eyes on the menu so I could simply point out what I wanted, but there were several other kinds of the chaat I intended to have.
Fortunately, the customer before me came to rescue upon seeing me having trouble. She asked what I was looking for. I, then, simply described to the lady that I wanted a type of puri filled with yogurt. And she pointed on the menu that there were different kinds of sevpuri: batata potato, palak spinach and so on. I smiled to return hers and pointed on sev batata puri on the menu. She got her order and left a thankful foreigner waiting for her meal.
When I noticed my sev puri being placed on a plate, I told the cashier that I needed it for takeaway. The person preparing my order refused to pack it in reasons I could not understand. The customer next to me stepped in and translated things for me. He said that the puri will get soggy if they packed it sealed. I, then, explained that I’m staying nearby so that should be fine. The customer relayed the same and they all smiled and agreed to pack my meal. I got my bag of chaat and bid them धन्यवाद dhan’yavāda thank you!
Being alone in a foreign country makes you feel vulnerable in that you will prefer to look for McDonald’s or KFC and munch into the familiar; to be safe. But sometimes, daring to step outside comfort zones proves to be worth it – allows you to learn new ways to say potato, to exchange smiles with kind strangers and to find new dishes to long for once you’re back home.