At the back of the hill

Warning: If you stay here long enough you will gain weight! Grazing here strongly suggests that you are either omnivorous, or a glutton. And you might like cheese-doodles.
BTW: I'm presently searching for another person who likes cheese-doodles.
Please form a caseophilic line to the right. Thank you.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Back in the nineties I worked at an Indian Restaurant. I had gotten the job when I interrupted a conversation between three plastered individuals in a dive on Broadway. Two of them were subcontinental, the third was a Sicilian petty criminal who worked in restaurants when not in jail - a very nice man, by the way, and a regular in that establishment. He drank there most nights, and often played poker with the lads at the back table.
Not that I would know anything about that.

It turned out the Sicilian gentleman did not know where Sri Lanka was, or what several of the spices were that the more English-able of the two gentlemen was trying to explain to him. So I jumped right on in.

After all, I know everything.

Two days later I was hired, after a fifteen minute interview with the boss of the restaurant. Bookkeeper, cashier. And also sane individual who could calmly observe, answer questions, interpret, represent, make sober decisions. We call it a khazanchee, that being the man that guards the iron cash box.
In the mountains of the North West Frontier Province, I would've been equiped with a Lee-Enfield rifle. Here in San Francisco, a severely Dutch attitude was considered sufficient.

As general factotum and supercargo, I was the one who went to tables to explain to customers that the service charge had been added for THEIR! OWN!! GOOD!!!
It had actually been added because the waiters had recognized the customers as being cheapskate Europeans, English, or Indians, and rightly feared being stiffed on the tip - "snnnff, we're French, and we do not tip in France, snnfff!" - and the waiters also knew that I was quite capable of brazenly overruling any objections that there might be.

Customer: "The chicken, it was not as good as it is in Hyderabad..."
Me: "But you ate absolutely ALL of it!"
Customer: "The achar, we usually expect that to be provided free..."
Me: "The menu says that it costs three dollars, and I know you saw the menu!"
Customer: "The chapatti was not so hot..."
Me: "Which one? You had over two dozen of them!"
Customer: "The owner usually gives a discount..."
Me: "The owner isn't here, but I am!"

As for English people, and the information that Indian food in England is infinitely better in London than in San Francisco, I am so very sorry, but this isn't London, it is San Francisco - are there any questions?

What many Europeans, English, and Indians, fail to understand is that tips are not optional - the staff NEED that money to pay their rent, and they really aren't living high off the hog. Five gentlemen working full time and living in a studio apartment is not the lap of luxury by any standard. A family of four in a Tenderloin one-bedroom? That really does not qualify as excessive comfort.
This is San Francisco. We are one of the most expensive cities in the world. And you are paying far less for your dinner than if the place was run by white people with snooty French accents. So stop being such a miser.


I also answered the phone. One of the most memorable conversations went like this:
Indian caller: "(Sigh)... I am keenly wishing to speak to mister Singh"
Me: "Which one?"
IC: "(Sigh)... It would then be mister J. Singh."
Me: "Which one?"
IC: "(Sigh)... Jack Singh."
Me: "Are you desiring to converse with Jagdeesh Singh, Jagtar Singh, Jagmohan Singh, Jagjeet Singh, Jagvinder Singh, Jangjit Singh Aluwalia, Jangjit Singh Bangi, Jagroop Singh, or Joginder Singh?"
IC: "Oh for Ram's sake, just let me speak to mister Patel!
Me: "Do you mean Ashwin Patel, Mantoo Patel, Harirambhai Patel, Parteeb Patel, Anirud Patel .....?"

Once down at one of the city offices, at very nearly five o'clock, I tried to ask the counter-clerk (an Indian, coincidentally) a question. Before I could even finish my sentence, he slammed the window down, snapping: "what everrr you are wantinggggg, we are NOT havinggg!"

I often felt like I was channeling for that fine gentleman while working at the restaurant.


Many of the people who called did not wish to speak to an Anglo. An Anglo just would not be able to answer their questions, nor understand what they were calling about. They insisted on speaking to the manager.

We did not have a manager. We had a headwaiter - who did not want to talk to them. We had a chief clerk down in the basement - who did not want to talk to them. We had a head chef - who would not want to talk to them at all.
And there was myself. I had answered the phone because it was right next to the cash box. But they did not wish to talk to me.

Very well then. I shall go get the "manager".
Put phone down, take a breath, pinch throat, and stare up at ceiling while picking the phone back up.

"Hallooo, this is Venky (Venkataraman) Injinir, I can be helping you pleez? You are vanting, yes?!?"

Almost always this led to a phone conversation that was satisfactory all around. Their questions got answered (did I already mention that I know everything?), reservations for small family parties of fifteen hundred people were made, dietary preferences and food-taboos were noted, and whatever they were wanting, was truly and indeed very much being had.

The only time it didn't work was when the owner's wife called.

The first time Venky (Venkataraman) Injinir answered, no problem. She never even wondered why some outrageously-accented South-Indian was working among all the North Indians.
She asked to speak to her son, I passed the phone, and thought no more about it.

Second time, she and Venky (Venkataraman) Injinir had a delightful but brief conversation about how there is no apam or murungai at all to be had alas in San Francisco, but aam ka achaar almost as proper as in Chettinad, heavens to betsy! Then her son came on the line, and I hung up.
Her son later informed me that I was a very exceptional sort of Tamil, obviously of good family. His mom was exceedingly pleased that they had managed to find such an exemplary Madrassi.

The third time, I had a cold. After a few minutes she exclaimed "Atboth, is that you!?!?!"
Without another word I handed the phone to her son and went into the kitchen to have a fit of the vapours.

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  • At 7:56 PM, Blogger GRANT!PATEL! said…

    Hey, I know you! You were that haughty gaura that worked at the big queen! Before Mistri-bhai started working there.

    Venky Injinir my ass! Hoomph! You once added twenty percent to my bill!

    I always thought you were the stuck-up Angrezi manager. Somekind of ghulam for either the muscle-bound surd or the frightful dravidian woman.

    ---Grant Patel

  • At 8:18 PM, Blogger GRANT!PATEL! said…

    And you once charged my friend Suresh FIFTEEN DOLLARS for Alu Tikki, you greedy cheapskate Dutchman!

  • At 8:20 PM, Blogger GRANT!PATEL! said…

    Seven dollars for a lassi with rooh-afzah!


    ---Green Enviboy

  • At 10:07 AM, Blogger The back of the hill said…

    Seven dollars for a lassi with rooh-afzah!

    No, we would've charged three dollars for that. What you probably had was a lassi with actual real rose-syrup (roh-ye warda). Which required the syrup that I made. Food-quality red rose petals, cane sugar, citric acid, and moyet el warda (rose-water). Plus a little attar. So not that cheaply made red syrup from Pakistan. Real rose flavours. That is a bit more expensive.

    And because I made the syrup at home and only brought it to the restaurant occasionally, it was not the standard pink lassi.

    And you once charged my friend Suresh FIFTEEN DOLLARS for Alu Tikki, you greedy cheapskate Dutchman!

    Hee hee hee. Special pricing for Gujus!

    But no, seriously. When you order a non-menu item that needs to be made from nearly scratch - because regular menu items are based on substantial pre-prep beforehand - than you can expect to pay more. On a busy evening, such an item can impact a bunch of other food orders. I don't know what went into Suresh's aloo ki tikki, but it probably required 100% attention from the chef and possibly the headwaiter. As well as taking twice-as-long to make as any other dish.

    Evenso. Special pricing for Gujus! Heh!

  • At 10:09 AM, Blogger The back of the hill said…

    Somekind of ghulam for either the muscle-bound surd or the frightful dravidian woman.

    The muscle-bound 'surd' was actually a Hindu. Nice chap, though.

    The frightful Dravidian woman was a chureil. Please do not mention her. Ugh!

  • At 11:40 AM, Blogger GRANT!PATEL! said…

    Yo, Venky-bhai, that's still fifteen bucks for bleeding potatoes! Fifteen bucks! As much as at that time the gosht ka korma! Outregaous!

    I do not charge extra no matter how stupid the client, you should not charge meat prices for ... POH ... TAT ... OWES!

    ---Grilled Pattice

  • At 11:42 AM, Blogger GRANT!PATEL! said…

    A hindoo? I always thought he was khalsa. So you see, you just can't know.

    What was the story on the frightful chureil? Didn't she have some black boyfriend or something? That measely rice-christian Keralawallah who worked in the booths?

    He always seemed dumb as an ox to me, i was surprised that he worked there. You must've got him cheap.

    ---Roger The Snobber

  • At 12:27 PM, Blogger Spiros said…

    In my line of work, I have to resist the temptation to say "What ever you are having, we are not wanting".

  • At 9:28 PM, Blogger e-kvetcher said…


    This is a very odd term. I've only heard it used to refer to Christian converts in Japan during the Shogunate period, specifically those who converted due to the conversion of their liege lord, but clearly this is not how the term is used above.

    What does it mean in this context?

  • At 9:50 AM, Blogger The back of the hill said…

    rice-christian - This is a very odd term. I've only heard it used to refer to Christian converts in Japan during the Shogunate period, specifically those who converted due to the conversion of their liege lord, but clearly this is not how the term is used above.
    What does it mean in this context?

    The way I've heard it used in Indian contexts, it disparagingly means Christians of formerly impoverished low-caste background, who converted and thus became 'master-caste'. With access to the food-services of missionary organizations. During the imperial era, the suspicion about South-Indian converts (mostly Madrassis, in fact - who are rice-eaters almost by definition) was that they had had ulterior motives in chucking Hinduism overboard.
    In fact, many of them did indeed have an ulterior motive - a religion which says that you deserve to be treated like sh*t for your entire life because you were born untouchable obviously isn't working for you. There is nothing in Hinduism which co-opts the disadvantaged other than the promise of reincarnation as a caste-Hindu in the next life - provided you obediently cringe and debase yourself for all the other castes in this existence.
    Many of the Christians in Kerala and elsewhere in the far-south are actually of that faith since before the first European set foot in India. Christianity has no food-taboos, and the coastal communities live off the sea ...... I have yet to find a Hindu or Muslim Indian who really understands that fish is food. Let alone weird creatures such as skate, eel, giant crawfish, shark .......
    Philippinos are also considered the same way by other Malayoids, and by Muslims. Though the term rice-Christian is not used. They are kaffirs or nasranis instead.

  • At 3:39 PM, Blogger DEATH BY NOODLES said…

    Hee hee hee! So it looks like you pulled a fast one on Grant Patel and his friends!

    Sorry Grant, but that is VERY amusing!

  • At 3:40 PM, Blogger DEATH BY NOODLES said…

    And please, one of you two tell me what alu tikki is. If you have the time between arguing over Indian restaurant menus.
    Thanks so much!

  • At 11:43 AM, Blogger GRANT!PATEL! said…


    Admirable description of rice christians. But not all Madrassis are chawal ki nasrani log, some (many) are savage Hindoos.

    If they had extra wives, they'd burn them.

    ---Grant Notahinduthankdog

  • At 11:45 AM, Blogger GRANT!PATEL! said…


    Alu tikki is potato patice, with lal mirch (that is cayenne) and chutneys. Plus a drizzle of yoghurt.

    Everything is better with yoghurt. Even bouncy bouncy - as you may discover once you are married.

    ---Grant Pastudyingtobeapriestel

  • At 11:47 AM, Blogger GRANT!PATEL! said…

    And no, it is NOT amusing. There is no justice in a greedy Dutchman getting the better of a rupee-pinching Indian. None whatsoever!!!!!!

    What is this world coming to?

    ---Grant Pennyantel

  • At 11:28 AM, Blogger GRANT!PATEL! said…

    Answer me that, miss Wong, what is this world coming to?

    Hah, I bet you have no glib response, do you? It is impossible for a panty-wearer to answer.

    ---Grant Patel

  • At 3:56 PM, Anonymous rhetorically amphibious said…

    But evidently, not impossible for a panty-wearer to posit.


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