We arrived in the US of A one hot sweltering Texas morning and within a few hours found ourselves in the little town of College Station. We grew to love it over our years in grad school there but that very first day, we were distraught. After the hustle, bustle and multitude of humanity that had surrounded us every single day of our lives in Bombay, this place was remarkably unnerving. The heat sapped all our energy and our jet-lag addled brains couldn’t quite process this other side of the world where we could see no one, not even after spending an entire morning at the window of our student house. No one stirred on these streets. The grass was impossibly green for a place so hot. Most importantly, for all of us arriving students was this truly awful problem – for the first time in our lives, having stepped out of our childhood homes, our fridge was bare.
Empathetic older students fed us that night. In the following days, we explored the new town and found out very quickly that if we were going to enjoy a taste of home, it had to come from either our own kitchens or that of expat friends. College Station had one Indian restaurant and it was the most rotten example of its species. I was in despair. Was this the fate of Indian food outside of India? Did it get watered down to a shadow of its origins in its attempt to appeal to a broader audience? I fervently hoped this wasn’t true.
Up to about the age of six, I was a super picky eater. I’ve chronicled my hatred of fish before but that was just the tip of the food-berg. As far as I was concerned there was an embargo on radish, squash, pumpkin, any kind of gourd, string beans, even okra. Even back then, my little mind could not fathom my distaste for okra. I thought it was the cutest vegetable ever (in India we call them lady’s fingers how cute is that?). I loved the flavour of the vegetable my mother made. I mean it had potatoes. I’ll eat pretty much anything with potatoes. And yet, I couldn’t stand to eat it. I’d separate out the potatoes from the okra. My younger sister was easily distracted and excelled at slipping the pieces of okra into her plate when she wasn’t looking.
The blue glow of the gas flame cast as eerie flickering glow on my kitchen walls. It was a bright, crisp November morning but my kitchen is at the back of my apartment. It has no windows and only enjoys borrowed light from my living room unless I turn on the lamp overhead. There was no need for that to heat a cup of water for tea.
Stirring the chai in my cup. I contemplated what sweet should be made for Diwali, which has approached much too fast this year. (Weren’t we just celebrating Holi?) I had the savoury portion covered with the poha chivda I made earlier this week. I just needed on sweet thing to complete the picture. I didn’t really want to step out to the shops today. Looking around, I saw my AP flour jar and immediately knew it was going to be shankarpali. It takes some doing but the ingredient list is three things: flour, sugar and ghee.
We get our fair share of requests for recommendations of what to do, where to go, what to eat as we have lived in the city for a while now. There’s nothing more we love than spreading the knowledge around. This extends to other things beyond San Francisco. Other finds like that lovely bakery, this great cooking show, that awesome dim sum place, this fantastic cheese. There are many things we would like to share with you on this space which don’t seem to fit in any other posts, created or run by wonderful folk. So starting today, every Thursday we’ll share three spectacular finds in San Francisco, in the shops, on the Internet, on the Web or just simply anywhere we come across them. Hopefully through here, you’ll find your new favourite pastry shop, Chinese take-out or a fun evening hangout.
On todays I love SF to bits edition
Good things come in small sizes at Delise Dessert Cafe on Bay Street. This little cafe totally gets the concept of wanting to indulge without feeling like killing yourself right after. The desserts are sized just about right so you can get a couple to sample or four to share with prices to match the size of the pastry. They opened about a block away from where we lived just about six months before we moved. Yes folks, they made us really think about wanting that move.
The owners Dennis and Eloise are the most welcoming and enthusiastic people. They were pastry chefs working for prestigious other places in San Francisco before they opened up this little endeavour. They have lovely, not-too-heavy sandwiches on the menu. The cakes and cookies are baked fresh everyday. With wonderful flavours like Irish Dream, the cakes are a slam dunk. What I’m crazy about here are the brownies. The chewy little dark chocolate squares with little sprinkles of salt have a texture unlike any brownie you’ve eaten. I have gone crazy trying to figure out how they make it. One of these days I’m just going to have to beg them for the recipe. They also have a fabulous range of ice-creams which change seasonally. Quince Poppy seed and Buttermilk Ginger are the bomb! (Does anyone say the bomb anymore? Way to be uncool, me. Wait, isn’t uncool…? Oh, dagnabit.) They surprise you with sudden Asian twists in unexpected places.
Don’t be fooled by their proximity to Pier 39. This is the most non-touristy little food option you will find in a ten block radius. Come here for lunch, say hello to Dennis and Elise, (and if you’re lucky their adorable little Gabe) have a sandwich and a cupcake and sit on their bar stools and watch the world go by out the window. You will leave just full enough.