Thursday, December 06, 2012


Years ago I worked at an Indian restaurant as a cashier, bookkeeper, and what might be described as 'supercargo'. Consequently I am now the man who knows everything. Nobody wants to be the ignorant gora surrounded by know-it-all Patels and Sardars.

For several years I purchased every book on Indian food, culture, languages, art, religion, philosophy, and history, that I could find. Studied the material assiduously, analysed, cross-referenced, and absorbed.

I'm still not Indian. But I'm the next best thing.
No, I have never been there.

On the other hand, neither have most of the customers who waltz in the door.
Filled with spirituality, vegetarianism, attitude, and, far too often, beer.
Which is a peculiarly British failing.
Often indulged in by Americans.
As well as European tourists.


I would be called upon to explain to customers what went into a particular dish, what spices were, ghee, lentils, tandoori chickens, ice water..... why they could NOT have a beef curry pizza, and why there was now a service charge on their bill.

"That charge is there for your con-veni-ence!

By which what I really mean is that none of my esteemed colleagues trust you lot -- you're Euries, yes? -- to understand the American custom of paying according to service, and budgeting an additional amount, say up to twenty or thirty percent, for the waitstaff who have graciously put up with your constant stream of importuning, ridiculous requests, loutishness, and the galling pretense that you invented civilization, cuisine, and, in fact, everything worthwhile in the entire damned universe.

Including India.
If you're British.
By the way, the best Indian food is not in England. That's Sylheti cooking, leavened with unrecognizable stuff that British dudes like. Sylhet is upper Bengal, there is a lovely railway station there. Enjoy your sorson ka maach. No more beer.
And please stop addressing Mr. Patel and Mr. Singh as "boy".
The best Indian food is, quite naturally, in India.

Mallum hai? Thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiik!

Now pay that "service charge" pronto, or you'll never see Hamburg again.

The customer is always right. Even when they're wrong.
And a flaming pile of cow dung besides.

Sixteen years of exposure to restaurant customers a few days a week gave me a profound sympathy for Vikings, Goths, Vandals, Huns, and the Tatar hordes.
You probably do not want me coming to your table.


It's a tricky bit of floor.....

Anybody who has ever worked in restaurants will appreciate the sketch above.
It exemplifies in so many ways what waiters and busboys have to deal with on a regular basis, and the sheer saintly level of graciousness that is required.

Genius, even.

NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:

All correspondence will be kept in confidence.


e-kvetcher said...

Gujarati restaurant?

I am learning quite a bit about food from Tamil Nadu and Kerala these days. Rasam and sambar, etc...

The back of the hill said...

No, not Gujerati. Though the chef could do very fine dokla if required.
Mostly 'generic' North Indian, meaning a menu reflecting a lot of Persian and Central Asian borrowings long transformed: naan, kulcha, tandoor, pilaf, biriani, korma, seekh, kabab, and so on.

Kitchen staff consisted of gentlemen named Singh and various stalwart Mexicans. Front room staff included Singh, Patel, Gomez, Mistri-bhai, myself, and a ghastly rice-Christian woman who claimed to be from Pondicherri.

As well as misters Kapoor, Kapoor, and Kapoor.

Gopal-das in the basement doing books. From somewhere in the foothills.

No apam, murugai, rasam, hoppers, sambar to be had.
Nor undhiu. That last, I'm sure distressed all the Patels in SF.

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