Last week, a friend at work invited a few of us back to his place for some food – always a good thing.
This friend of mine is always sharing – whether it’s stories about his family or random stuff on YouTube. He speaks a few languages; he’s lived in a few countries; his family and culture (Indian subcontinent) is, through him, expansive and welcoming.
So off we go to his place. First stop: an incredible traditional Indian sweet shop which is bursting with colour and flavour. It’s sweet on one side and savoury on the other. We pick up some freshly baked chapatis which smell amazing. Outside the shop, we bump into one of his friend’s who is chasing him for some of his family’s famous dessert. Getting excited and super hungry now.
The food we have in his living room is just something else – a delicious side salad that is moreish enough to be a main, two expertly contrasting dips for the chapati and minced meat curry, samosas and a biriyani. These are foods that aren’t exactly new to me but to have them authentically created and presented to you in a living room setting enriches the whole experience. I strongly believe that instead of just being a functional act, food should be friendly and this was very much so.
The pudding, which was already in high demand on the street, lived up to the local legend. Lovingly summarised as “Ready Brek but not shit”, it was a nameless porridge-esque with the natural sweetness and creaminess of rice pudding but infused with something way better than them all. It could go mass market, it’s that good (and there are talks of a local market stall), but I’m more proud to be just part of the exclusive club.
Then the evening made a transition from food to thought. A book of Muslim wisdom made the rounds and many passages stuck with me. I’ve never prayed to one particular God but I often absorb the messages and ideals when I’m exposed to them. The closest I came to converting to any single religion was when I was overwhelmed by the beauty and grandeur of the Catholic faith while I explored Rome. That all went sour when one of the sisters in the Vatican gift shop tried to stiff me. That was a €20, not a €10, lady. Anyway, that’s another story for another day.
The book of wisdom would’ve been enough to satisfy my soul but then we all went for an afterhours tour of the local mosque which my friend had the key for. It’s the first time I’ve been in a mosque and to have an all-access pass when no-one else is around is strangely thought-provoking.
In contrast to Rome and the Vatican which is a constant dynamic bombardment, this had a stillness and serenity that gave you free reign to think rather than just to queue. Our tour encompassed the subtle detail of the main hall, the teaching rooms with their books ready for study, the unused sections that no-one else sees, the renovation plans, the history, the funny stories people don’t know, the effect it had on the community… It was all as unexpected as the Rolling Stones branded empty sweet packet I noticed in one of the prayer room bins. East meets west indeed. More evenings like this please.