Tuesday, July 28, 2009
What I am Craving Now: Trishna
After a few weeks in India in early 2007, following the wedding of my friend Saurabh in Pune, Ingo and I were making our way back from Cochin through Mumbai, where we had a five hour layover en route to our respective countries of residence. And I had devised a little plan for those five hours.
R.W. Apple Jr., associate editor of the New York Times, Vietnam war correspondent, political journalist and travel and food enthusiast penned an article shortly before his untimely death as part of what was to be a series entitled, “Journeys: An Epicurean Pilgrimage: Meals Worth the Price of a Plane Ticket.”
One of the ten restaurants he selected was in Mumbai: Trishna. And since we already had the plane tickets, and because we had a five hour layover – I mean, it was obvious, right?
Johnny Apple, as the gourmand was known, was not the first person to make me salivate with his writing, but he has definitely been my personal muse, my foodie crush, of this genre of writing. I use to devour his articles - I may have actually licked printed pages as he described steamed dumplings in Shanghai, Thai spices and English meat pies. And of course, I swooned at his charming and inevitable references to his constant travel and dining companion “my wife, Betsey.”
Both Mr. Apple and Frommer’s refer to the snobby, surly service at Trishna which is known to cater to Bollywood starlets and Mumbai businessmen. I was far from Bollywood glamour or grace and equidistant from looking Mumbai money however as Ingo and I arrived in our old school non-AC white and yellow striped Ambassador cab, windows down, the humid Mumbai air blowing my hair into a Medusa-esque coif, not a trace of make up on my face and a pair of old flip-flops on my feet.
First of all, it’s a miracle we even found the place – going on nothing more that hunger pangs, a less than reliable sense of direction and sheer will, “Trishna restaurant” I told the driver, Kala Ghoda. Blank stare. I said it again this time with an Indian accent and a head bobble. Wrinkling eyebrows, slight recognition - at least of the accent and head wag. “Colaba?” I tried referring to the backpacker area where we stayed while in the city over Christmas. “Ahhhh, Colaba. Ok, Ok.” We set off, through the city, freeways, back alleys, parking lot, short cuts and I began to get nervous – not that he was going to drive us out to the middle of nowhere and cut us open to carve out and sell our kidneys on the organ black market, but that we would never find the place or worse, find it but not have enough time to have dinner.
Eventually (think an hour and a half later), things began to look familiar – the National Museum of Modern Art, the movie theater where we saw “Kabul Express.” “Ok.. I think we’re close.” I motion for the driver to take a left and he bobbles out a no, I guess. It’s a one way street. Around the first roundabout, the second and we are on track. Thrusting my hand into the front seat, I pointed left and right and suddenly, like a vision, that Vegas-cheesy but oh so beautiful hot pink neon sign appeared around the corner that indicates that we have arrived at our destination: Trishna.
We pulled up and before negotiating with our crafty cab driver, I ask Ingo to wait with the bags, just in case. I had been trying to call to make a reservation all day – only to get a perpetual busy signal. It was a random Sunday night – it couldn’t be that busy, I’d thought. Wrong. The place was packed. Disheveled and dirty, I tried not to look as desperate as I felt.
“Good evening, Madame,” one of the six men in suits greeted me.
“Hi. Do you have a table for two?”
“What name is the reservation under?”
“Um, well, I don’t exactly have a reservation.” (Raised eyebrows which seemed to say, “Been smoking crack now, have you?”) “But I have been trying to call all day and I kept getting a busy signal.” (Frown)
“Look we just flew in to Bombay right now. We have about three hours in town before we have to leave the country and we caught a cab straight here. This is the only thing we want to do in Bombay, to have dinner at your restaurant. We have to turn around and head back to the airport in less than two hours and….” I was prepared to tell him that it was my birthday, that we were on our honeymoon, that I live in Afghanistan and subsist on rice and would simply die if we couldn’t have dinner there, but I was interrupted. Another tourist walked in with two friends and asked for a table. “Do you have reservations?” “Ah, no.” “I am sorry. Without a reservation, I cannot seat you.” “Well, we can wait. Will it help if we wait?” The maitre’d looked at them and without hesitating said, “Oh, no sir. I am sorry. Goodnight.”
I watched them leave and prepared myself for the same fate.
“Can you eat fast?” he asked me. Blank stare. “We have one table but it is reserved. You can have a quick dinner but I am going to need that table so if you can eat fast…”
“I can eat really fast!” I said in an unnecessarily loud, excited voice.
“Ok, then come this way..”
“I have bags in the car…”
“Well, bring them in.”
“Um, big bags..”
“Bring them in and sit down.”
I ran out to the car, paid the driver and helped Ingo drag our two large duffle bags and backpacks into the restaurant, shoved them into a corner and sat down at the table while high-fiving each other, shit-eating grins on our faces.
“How did you do that?! I saw that other group walk in and out again. I thought the place was full!”
No matter, we ordered the signature king crab soaked in butter, garlic and pepper; the pomfret Hyderabad, a butterfish barbequed in black pepper and tiger prawn masala washed down with two King Fishers. As the butter dribbled down my chin I looked up across the table a saw my expression mirrored in Ingo’s eyes – ecstasy. We couldn’t speak, we just moaned. Literally. Unbelievable.
We had no problem finishing everything quickly, though we tried hard to make the meal last a little bit longer. As we climbed into the cab to head back to the airport in a food coma, reeking of garlic, we vowed to get to the other nine restaurants on Johnny Apple’s list – by plane, car, boat or bike.