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We entered the quaint little shop-front filled
with incense smoke. After sitting through a lecture on Bhagavad-gita
we were served refreshments - chilled wedges of orange, dried figs,
and little cups of warm, nutmeg and banana-infused milk. The philosophy
had not really sunk in, but the taste of the food sure did. Despite
it being so simple, I had never tasted anything so wonderfully delicious.
A young English girl in a sari invited us back on Sunday to what
she called "The Love Feast". During the next few days
I could not get the taste of that food out of my mind.
At the feast on Sunday there were more taste sensations.
Mark and I sat cross-legged on the carpeted floor in the tiny Oxford
Street shopfront along with about fifty other first-timers and savoured
the newly encountered flavours. There were numerous dishes, but
the two that remain in my mind were the warm, firm buttery pudding
made from semolina called halava, and slices of eggplant dipped
in a spicy chickpea flour batter and fried in ghee with a haunting
elusive flavour that I had never encountered. I asked a lanky, bright
faced monk dressed in saffron cloth what that taste was and he answered
"asafetida". I had no idea what that was, but I was hooked
on the taste.
I started to make regular visits to the temple
after school. One Friday evening, the young saffron clad devotee,
whose name I learned was Upananda, invited me to help him in the
dimly-lit temple kitchen. He was rolling small balls of soft, milky-coloured
dough that were to become a sweet called Gulab Jamuns. The
task was a long one - at least 2 hours - but the time went fast
as Upananda regaled me with the fascinating story of what we were
doing in that tiny basement kitchen.
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