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February 21, 2013

Local Voice From Around the Globe: The side effects of 'string beans'

Step No. 1 to eating and enjoying meals in a foreign country: Acceptance.

Upon coming to India, I was immediately forced to accept an entirely different diet and the customs that accompanied it. Between eating styles, table manners and new foods, dining suddenly required patience and awareness. Of course, after succeeding with the first step, I arrived at the second: Moderation.

In my experience, the style of eating has depended on the family. At times, I have eaten using familiar utensils, plates and napkins, while at other times, I have eaten on thaali’s (traditional Gujarati plates), using my right hand for silverware, and on tables that have never known the like of napkins. The variety of dining, like all things in India, constantly jumps from extreme to extreme with unparalleled ease.

I remember having feared the renowned spiciness of Indian cuisine before having gone. Luckily, I have had but one notable experience with masalé, spices. It came on a platter, disguised in such cool vegetables as cucumbers, carrots and tomatoes. Looking identical to a string bean — for the half second I actually devoted to looking at it — I eagerly shoved it in my mouth. All I can say, now, is that it could only have been a chili, and one with the strength to make the sun cower.

Like most spicy things, this chili took a little while to set in, yet it was not long before I realized my terrible mistake. My eyes were blinded with the water that had rushed to them, and my mouth was aflame with furious heat, soothed momentarily by the water I drained all too quickly from my glass. I must not have made such a show of it because the waiter continued to ask me if I would have some more of this or that. “Pani, kripiya.” Water, please.

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