'On the flight back to India, four full days after I had eaten at home, I had my first -- and very welcome -- meal, and recall asking the air hostess if there were more portions of dal than the helping she had served me,' says Kishore Singh.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com
What is it with Americans and cheese, anyway?
Having arrived in New York as part of the morning rush, a colleague in office, sensing I may not have had the time for breakfast, volunteered to pick up an "egg something" from a cafeteria down the road from the office.
Knowing her proclivity for egg sandwiches, I nodded gratefully. Only, it was an egg sandwich supersized the American way -- with slices of ham slathered in melted cheese, a profanity in the name of food that I managed a couple of bites of before slipping it surreptitiously away into the trash bin in the pantry.
"Wonderful, wasn't it?" asked my colleague, relishing hers and surprised at the speed at which she presumed I'd wolfed mine down.
There was no time for lunch that day, and I was so jetlagged by dinner time, I dozed off, waking up hungry in the middle of the night and wanting something other than Pringles and nuts from the minibar.
Room service extended only to things cold, but when I pressed them for something hot, they relented enough to consider salmon and duck sandwiches that, they said, were not on the night menu, but which they'd grill on special request.
They arrived -- you guessed it -- entirely doused in cheese, more fondue than hoagie.
Salmon drowned in cheese -- in a word, unpalatable.
The egg selection in the morning consisted of various forms of omelette stuffed with everything from olives to gherkins, but with one common ingredient: Cheese.
Could they eliminate it, please? "Not possible, monsieur," said the faux French maître d’, "The omelettes would not be creamy otherwise."
So, instead, I settled for a savoury toast, hoping for something tart. Wouldn't you know it that the "toast" consisted of slices of bread and salami that seemed to have been wrapped in cheese and deep fried before being topped with a fried egg.
It wasn't French, and it wasn't American, and it remained untouched in my plate while monsieur remained hungry.
It was my fault, I suppose, that I opted to refrain from dining at the two events the company was hosting in the Big Apple.
Being a host means being available to talk and schmooze, not sit down with one's own plate of grub, even though, by then, as another colleague who had accompanied me from New Delhi, suggested he was hungry enough to eat my hand.
So, instead, we walked down to find what must have been New York's worst food cart for a hot dog that tasted of sawdust and meat residue.
It was my only meal in the city, and it didn't have cheese, and was as close to heaven as any.
Another day, I remember having a takeaway soup of which the only thing that can be said is that it was hot and it was filling, for bereft of either taste, or nourishment, it remained remiss.
It was on the flight back to India, four full days after I had eaten at home, that I had my first -- and very welcome -- meal, and I recall asking the hostess if there were more portions of dal than the helping she had served me.
So sick was I of America's affair de la cheese, I had refused the air hostess' offer of good old paneer.
But the post prandial trolley included roquefort, stilton and gorgonzola. Would I like some?
I'm happy to report that my antipathy to America's fondness for runny cheeses didn't extend to the blue variety of Europe's finest.