By Jamie Swinnerton
By Mark Antonation
By Lori Midson
By Jonathan Shikes
By Amber Taufen
By Cafe Society
By Juliet Wittman
By Jonathan Shikes
I flag down Laxmi and ask for chai. It's a family recipe, passed down from her aunt through all the female blood relatives. She claims it is the best chai in the country, the best that can be had without going to Bombay -- where the family comes from and where she grew up, among the hotels and resorts that Shanti Awatramani's family ran. When she sets the cup down in front of me, the steam seems to have a weight. It's so heavy with spice it can barely rise.
Laura is beaming, pop-eyed, lost in reverie, home again among flavors whose memories were all she had to live on for far too long. With a fork in her hand, a spot of spinach on her lip and a blush of heat and spice in her cheeks, she is more beautiful than I have seen her in a long time. She digs through her rice pudding looking for raisins and shares them with me.
In the parking lot outside, she dances to the car, spinning in circles like a six-year-old who's had too much candy. Laura is a woman more likely to punch a nun in the face than to dance. At our wedding, I had to bribe her just to get her up for one song. But here, she dances. And I lumber, stuffed and half drunk on spice and memories, carrying a heavy bag of takeout.
Late that night, long after Laura has collapsed, stunned into sleep, I go down to the kitchen and assemble a second feast of dirty, spicy rice and cold tandoori chicken stained a pale red, and murgh and sweet potatoes and blazing hot biryani and naan smeared with honey. The first time, I waited eight years before trying this food; now I barely wait four hours before having it again. I eat by the light of the TV, lying on our couch in our house, amazed all over again, sucker-punched by a cuisine I thought I knew. In the morning, Laura will likely kill me for eating all the leftovers -- but then, this relationship has always been based on food. Food started it, food sustained it, food kept us together through some very strange years. No doubt, food will be the end of it as well.
But not until morning, at least.