Recently I had the pleasure of being an honored guest in an Indian home. One of our Indian colleagues asked us to join him, his wife and their one year old son for brunch. I did some quick research on customs and culture but you never really know the credibility of the stuff you read online. I decided to wear my semi formal kameez, especially since I was the highest ranking member of our group. Status is very important in India. We also took gifts, which is customary. I had a bag of Seattle chocolates just for the occasion.
It was a 45 minute drive through parts of Gurgaon we hadn’t seen before. My two coworkers and I took in all the sites of rural village life. We passed many women carrying various things on their heads, kids playing, wild pigs and cows rummaging through garbage and we saw numerous temples. Before long we arrived and were warmly greeted by Santosh, his family and some smiling neighbors.
Middle class Indian homes are typically two to three stories tall, made of concrete and have a flat roof. They are not insulated and don’t usually have heat or air conditioning. Most of the time the lights are left off. They have very tall ceilings and modest furniture and decor. The kitchens don’t have ovens and all the cooking is done on a hot plate or free standing stove top.
We removed our shoes (as is customary) and were asked to sit down on the sofa in the living room. Hindi MTV style music videos were playing on the TV. His wife went back to work in the kitchen and soon the whole home smelled divine as the aroma of a home cooked meal filled the air.
Breakfast was brought to us so we ate with the plate in our lap. They served me first. It was dosa with a potato curry. Dosa is a flat bread and you typically fill the inside with rice, lentils, a chutney, etc. You can also just tear it apart and dunk it or scoop food with it. Indians eat with their hands but they thoughtfully brought us silverware to use. I opted to just use my fingers since we were in their home. It was absolutely delicious! We were surprised that the entire time we were there they did not eat. They just served us and watched us eat. I admit that felt a little awkward!
We visited with them for a couple of hours after breakfast. His wife (I’m embarrassed but I couldn’t pronounce her name) made a Rangoli for us outside their front door. It is a handmade colorful floor drawing made with sand. They do it on special occasions so this was done in our honor. She did it all free hand and it was fascinating to watch!
Several neighbors dropped in to see the Americans. They were all gracious and curious, asking us lots of questions about home and our experiences in India. One woman was a teacher and she got very excited when I told her I am learning some Hindi. She even offered to tutor me! At some point I discreetly excused myself to use the washroom. I was glad I had thought ahead and brought my own handiwipes as their was no toilet tissue. There never is. They clean with water, either using a small bucket or a long shower head nozzle next to the toilet.
Soon it was time for lunch. They put a blanket on the floor for us to sit on and piled it full of all kinds of delicious Indian dishes. They served us Poori (a puffy hollow fried bread) with biryani, rice, and the most delicious paneer I’ve ever had. Paneer is a type of cottage cheese or curd they use to make creamy dishes for dipping. This paneer looked like a thick bisque and was made with sweet potatoes. We ate it all Thaali style, in which the sauces are arranged in a circle on the plate with the bread (in this case Poori) in the middle. For dessert they served us Kheer (a type of rice pudding). Again, they watched us eat and got visibly upset when we stopped. They kept insisting we eat more and I did the best I could just so they wouldn’t be offended. By the time it was over I had that uncomfortable after Thanksgiving feeling of over eating, but it was all sooooo good. After being on the road for so long a home cooked meal was amazing!
We finished the day with coffee. As I was drinking the last of it I heard a flute playing outside and bought a handmade wood flute from a street vendor. We left around 2:30 in the afternoon. It was a delightful day and their hospitality was fabulous!