Thursday, September 22, 2016

On feeding and being fed by friends

On the rare occasions I invite friends over for a meal at home, I tend to make sure it's planned in a way that I'll have time to cook before they arrive. If not, then I just order takeout, and I'm very clear that I'm ordering in. And I'm guessing I do this because growing up, having people over for a meal meant my mother would spend pretty much all day in the kitchen, cooking close to a dozen dishes - that's just how things were done, now matter how much we rolled our eyes and said we don't need so many dishes. But everything was always ready, just to be heated before serving, prior to people beginning to arrive. At the most it would be the luchis or the rotis that would need to be made, and if anything had to be baked or something.

I don't offer as many options when I host - because let's face it, my cooking capabilities are fairly limited, and why put both myself and my friends through so much unnecessary trauma? But still, I do try and have things ready before friends arrive.

Which is why I feel pretty puzzled when I'm invited to someone's place for dinner, and I arrive to find that they have every intention of cooking while I'm there. And this is usually fine if what we're doing is barbecue or something, where I guess the cookout is supposed to be part of the experience or whatever (although I will never understand people in this country who on the one hand complain about the heat, and then decide hot days are best spent outside by the pool - never in the pool, but just lying by the pool). But I feel completely lost when this is done by desi people, for Indian food, which, let's face it, typically takes quite a bit of time to prepare.

I think this is also partially because a lot of Indians tend to eat late, which again was not something that happened at home growing up - we usually ate by 7 or 8 pm latest. So if I have folks coming over at, say, 7 if it's a weeknight, I'll assume that they'll show up by 8 because Indians are annoying that way. So I'll have appetizers ready when they show up, and move to dinner by let's say 9.

Compare that with a friend I visited the other day. We got to her place at 6, on a Saturday evening. I hadn't eaten all day, because I had woken up really late, and then run around trying to get errands done before getting to her place. So when her husband heard that he brought out the samosas and namkeen pretty quickly, by 6.30ish (mainly because he knew I wouldn't drink till I had eaten something). Then around 8, he made some pizzas and served those. Which was great, and I felt pretty full, so I made them bring out the sweets I had brought from one of my recent trips. But then around 9.30 or 10, he suddenly started making pasta for us, which was apparently the main course of the evening.

And this has happened every time I've visited them, or other friends too. There's be snacks, followed by a mini-meal which feels to me like a main meal, and then suddenly there's a second main meal. And the second meal is usually made while we're there.

Which maybe is a nice and informal way to do it, but still always feels a little bizarre to me.

So am I the only person completely bewildered by all of this? I was talking to S, who feels the same way as me, and we were trying to figure out if we're just anomalies in this respect. Is this a generational thing, and we just happen to do things the same way as our mothers did, a Bengali thing (she's as probashi as I am, except maybe a little better at being bangali than I am), or just something else entirely?

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