It’s another holiday weekend in Singapore. Sunday is Hari Raya Haji, the pilgrimage festival that marks the end of a Muslim’s pilgrimage to Mecca. No parade — it’s a day of sacrifice (animals) so I think we’ll steer clear of Little India tomorrow. But tonight we went to Kantipur Tandoori on Verdun Road. We’d heard there were tables on the floor and live music, but apparently the landlord put the kabosh on that so we sat on chairs at a table in a big open dining room. The ambiance was lacking, but the food was great starting with papadams and super green mint raita. We ordered the tandoori chicken, Nepali thali and butter paratha. The tandoori chicken and paratha were standard Indian fare — big hunks of flavorful meat cooked in a tandoor and layered, crispy flatbread I find irresistible.
The Nepali thali arrived on a big silver tray like India’s version of a fancy TV dinner. Chicken masala, sauteed spinach and tomatoes, rice and naan, aloo ghobi (spiced cauliflower and potatoes), dahl for the rice and a couple little fried balls of unknown goodness. What was most compelling about the meal is located at 12:00 — the smallest compartment in the tray — in the top photo above. Completely unrecognizable and unattractive, we both ignored the lovin’ spoonful until the end of the meal when my curiosity got the better of me. I poked around with my fork and found a bone-like piece, a wedge of something that resembled an old lime, and a little green ball that was either a pea or a peppercorn — all drenched in a thick golden oil. I called the waiter over and asked him what the mystery mush was made of and what it was called.
“It’s a pickle!” Really? “It’s a pickle!” Okay. Maybe “pickle” is the term used when no other, more descriptive term applies or the subject in question is just too hard to explain. The waiter left the table so I took my knife and cut into the wedge. It’s an artichoke? Threaded yellowish interior with a green exterior. Kind of old and hard, but I think it’s an artichoke? I cut off a piece and tasted it. Definitely not a pickle. Like nothing I’ve ever tasted. Imagine if your grandmother had been marinating an odd handful of vegetables in the perfume bottle on her nightstand for like six months. Yes – that’s what it tasted like. Unpalatably fragrant and old and oily. No wonder there was such a scant amount. Must be an acquired taste, but at least I tried and failed to acquire it.
We paid the bill and the very pleasant host thanked us for coming. I asked him if maybe he could tell us what the small obscure dish was on the Nepali thali. He opened the menu and looked at the photo, trying to understand what I was asking him. Finally, he understood and what did he say? “Ah yes, it’s a pickle!”