I dragged two of my guy friends out to Sind Punjab in Meena Bazaar earlier this week. One of them is a die-hard Sind Punjab advocate. He dismissed the menu as most restaurant old-timers do. This guy could order blind folded…maybe even gagged — ‘e daee puee’ — and they’d instinctively know he was ordering one plate of his beloved Dahi Puri. I love this omnipresent Indian street snack too. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted a bad plate of dahi puri. I’ve usually wolfed it down with the same vigor wherever I’ve tried it. So don’t ask me if Sind Punjab’s dahi puri is better than dahi puri anywhere else, cause when we’re talking about sloppy plates of deep fried crispy hollow balls shoved with chickpeas and potatoes and ladled over with yogurt, tamarind chutney and spicy somethings, my standards are pretty forgiving to begin with.
I also ordered a plate of Mix Chaat, just to hedge against the very likely risk of my friend not being willing to part with anything but a few spoons of his holy plate of dahi puri. The two chaats were quite similar, except that the deep-fried hollows had been replaced with deep-fried discs. Frankly, when all the same fried, boiled and chutney ingredients are all smushed together in your mouth, the tangysweetsavoryspicy result is pretty much the same. And undoubtedly rocking at that.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say that chaat is one of those down-to-earth things that can instantly break the ice amongst a group of strangers. It’s fun to eat, a bit messy at times, but just fast to prepare and faster to eat up, so it doesn’t leave you with lingering moments of “umm…yeah, cool, so what’d you do in the city again? [and let me take this walloping gulp of water while you’re answering so that I can drown out what you’re saying once more]”. And true enough, we had none of that stilted conversation at Sind Punjab that evening, despite the fact that my two aforementioned guy friends had never met each other. I was the common friend. They were complete strangers meeting for the first time.
I can imagine that if any of you have the same x-rated neurons that I have, they've probably start bleeping wildly at the thought of this sounding like some sort of gay first date orchestrated by a mutual, very helpful friend. Let me clarify that both men are happily straight, and most likely outrageously homophobic. But should there still be cynical minds out there reading this post, I’ll hold back from taking names in the interests of their future female conquests…even though both of said guy friends are smart, perceptive, thoughtful, and do deserve some cyber fame.*
*[Should my two mystery male dinner partners be interested in identifying themselves for the benefit of single women who have just perused my last complimentary statement and are falling over their manicured toes to meet them, aforementioned masculine subjects should feel free to announce themselves in my comments section. Single ladies, stay tuned.]
I love inviting people who’ve never met each other out for dinner. It keeps conversations fun and different and excitingly unpredictable. I was hoping that bringing together fun guy to hang out with + another fun guy to hang out with = potentially mega synergistic fun as we all hung out together. The goal was for us to bond over the most clichéd, but so dang butterly good, North Indian food: Garlic Parantha and creamy Paneer Tikka Masala with this addictive spice blend that had me lapping up the gravy like a happy (and chubby) cat who was well past her feline bursting point.
With a mixed group, or even if we're only talking women, this random pollination of people works out quite well – women tend to be chattier than men, and will almost always find something to gas about to other women. Our female-dominated blogger group is a great testament to that. We might start off with someone’s rant about their day at work, and end up talking about breast feeding strategies [a topic to which I can contribute every pearly white tooth of my sheepish smile]. Even if we’re not going to end up being BFF’s, we’ll make it through the evening. Add a few men to the mix, and the women will somehow drag them into the conversation too [in which case, if the conversation veers towards breast feeding best practices, my lone sheepish smile suddenly feels right at home in a meadow of awkwardly silent and also sheepishly smiling men].
But only men, and only two men at that, now THAT could be a risk.
The rational part of my mind is positive that two mature men who’ve just been introduced to each other in a social context can carry on a conversation just fine, thankyouverymuch. But an irrational part of me (which is usually most parts of me) can’t get over that strong internal impulse to ‘prep’ the two guys I’m introducing to each other beforehand, throwing out all possible mutual areas of interest that could be good conversation starters. “He’s a techie too, you should talk to him about…tech stuff!” or “he’s a big-time car guru, pick his brains on what’s hot in the market” or other such exceedingly generic and totally useless tidbits that prompted one of the guys I was prepping before our man-date to respond defensively with “hey, are you trying to set me up with this dude? You know I’m straight right…?”
Yes I do know. But I live in fear of the awkward silence that could descend on us if both guys just decide to go mum on me and fumblingly prod at the bowl of Aloo Jeera (cumin tossed potatoes) thrust before us. Total silence, other than a pass the tissue box please? or nice, this lassi is pretty good, how’s yours [don’t answer that, I really don’t care]…or maybe someone would try to strike up petty conversation by muttering something about how they would skip the unexceptional potatoes next time and go with the Butter Chicken or Bhindi Masala (okra) instead…
But in this case, no ice-breaking was needed. My paranoia about painful silences was totally unfounded. My two unnamed man-daters got along just fine. They chattered on comfortably even when I wasn’t around to provide conversational glue and was busy poking my lens into Sind Punjab’s charcoal grill. This, by the way, is where those glorious skewers of Sind Punjab's yogurt-marinated Chicken Tikka are born.
These boneless chunks of charred smoky supremacy on the outside and tender marinated lovin’ on the inside do wonders for conversation amongst strangers. Either it’d get the subjects of your orchestrated man-date to instantly connect over effusive chicken tikka eulogies. Or at least they can credibly stuff their faces with something tender and buttery that’s conducive to polite munching, rather than making an awkward silence even more awkward by filling it with forced chewing grunts to get through obnoxiously rubbery pieces of meat.
But like I said, there were no awkward silences. In fact, my excessive planning and prepping actually back-fired. My man-date candidates realized that sure, they could techie geek-talk over chicken tikka…but, it would be WAY more fun to spend the dinner ganging up and pelting me with verbal ammo. Not even a basketful of Punjabi Masala Kulcha, warm, garlicky, stuffed with potatoes, paneer and onions, and glazed with ghee, could save me now. My man-date with two witty, fun-to-hang-with dudes had created a two-headed taunting monster that used me and my idiosyncrasies as comic fodder through the rest of the meal.
There’s no sweet happy ending to this story, save the gulab jamuns, which were actually very good gulab jamuns at that. I usually don’t entertain the idea of ordering gulab jamuns at restaurants because they seem rubbery in comparison to mom’s homemade version. But Sind Punjab’s matched my mom’s quite closely. Not overly sweetened, almost perfectly sized, with insides that had that decadent dense milky mush texture that only mom’s touch produces.
We trudged back, all of us disgustingly full, the man-daters still mocking me about things that my mind has conveniently blanked out on, and me trying to glean out what I’d learned from the experience. Maybe it’s this – the next time the idea of mixing-and-matching my dinner company possesses me, and two man-friends pop into my head as people who’d be fun to introduce to each other over dinner, I’ll just go make me a super-sized bowl of hard sugarless cereal bran sticks and eat through it, tasteless stick by tasteless stick, until that thought dies away.
Meena Bazaar, Bur Dubai (they also have a second branch in Karama)
Bur Dubai: +971 (4) 352-6114/352-5058
Karama: +971 (4) 337-5535/337-7557