When sometime last month, pizza chain Dominos announced that at least 500 of its outlets across India will serve only vegetarian fare during Navratri, it seemed like the universe was balancing itself. If I have to be off chicken for nine long days, why should the rest of the world be able to walk into Dominos and gobble down Chicken Mexicana?
Just to put this in context for people unfamiliar with the idea of navratri - not only does all the non-vegetarian food go off the menu, in more traditional homes, garlic and onions too bow out for those nine days. And oh, your usual wheat and rice also are chucked off your daily meals if you are planning to fast. Yep, you heard that right.
However, trust us Indians to rustle up the most delicious fare out of literally air. So, we usually take the basic Navratri ingredients -- sabudana, paneer, aloo and singhare ka atta (water chestnut flour) -- and cook up a storm of tikkis, halwas, kheer, sabzis and even rotis.
So when Dominos also announced a Navratri menu with 'foreign' food made out of traditional ingredients, it was as if all our Rajshri Productions dreams were coming true. So much 'sanskaar' that I could bury my face in a sabudana pizza and weep.
The Navratri menu comprises a pizza with singhara (water chestnut) flour base, sabudana crispies and dumplings and sabudana pudding. As accompaniment you have sauces with just rock salt as seasoning.
I skipped lunch so that I could stuff myself with all the Navratri goodness that was going to come my way in Dominos. With a silent prayer for the peace of mind and health of Italian pizza makers, I marched into the Dominos at Connaught Place, mother in tow.
However, the moment I ordered the Navratri menu, I could sense a wave of panic wash across the faces of the staff. Some of the other customers didn't try to mask their surprise when they turned to stare at me, after overhearing my order.
When the box of pizza and everything else arrived, I felt a bit like a brave warrior. Putting my tastebuds up for sacrifice to save others' - at least that's what it felt like in my head.
I opened the box of pizza first. A pungent odour hits you -- it goes straight for your heart via the nostrils. I could feel mine sinking and it didn't help that my mother scrunched up her nose in horror. The base, made from singhara flour and white millet tasted raw and doughy. In fact, I had to take several swigs of cola to down the few bits of the pizza. Yes, the thing sticks and clings to your throat like you have swallowed glue -- heck, had I known what glue tastes like, I would have declared that it perhaps also tastes like it. The tiny – and I mean tiny – pellets of fried paneer were oily and flavourless. They were also an instant reminder of the signs in home décor stores placed over fake baskets of fruit: 'This is for decoration purposes only. It is not to be consumed.'
And oh, if you sign up for the 'shuddh sanskaari' meal, please be aware of what you have gotten yourself into. For example, you will not be given oregano to sprinkle the sabudana pizza with. Since the oregano mix has garlic in it, the waiter will hand you chilli flakes are ask you to make do with it. "The oregano mix has garlic, and salt, so we're not serving it with the meal," a waitress informed me.
"Try the sabudana crispies, how bad can they be?" coaxed my inner warrior in a brave voice.
On opening the box, I realised that had I not been told that these were crispies, I would not have know what these are. Honestly, each one of them looked like the top of Trump's head to me. Now, imagine eating them. They had the same odour as the pizza did. While they are similar in texture to the sabudana vada - crispy on the outside and soft and spongey inside - they taste nothing like them. Sabudana is pretty bland and tasteless and usually people infuse jeera seeds etc to give them a semblance of taste. And the vada doesn't have the godforsaken smell that these crispies have.
The best part of this meal was of course a sweet chutney.
There was only one thing left – the sabudana pudding. My mother and I opened our little round boxes, and my fighting spirit bolted out of the door. The little bowl of pudding my mother had looked like cement which had developed a nasty case of acne. Mine was a soupy liquid with a blob of berry-coloured sauce to top it.
Just to give you a sense of what the 'Navratri meal' was like, we had to smother the lingering taste of the food with one Mexican green wave pizza, many glasses of cola and three scoops of ice-cream.
See, if there are people who still send you Candy Crush requests, this is a golden opportunity to teach them a lesson.
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