Snapshots from Asia: Truly, a Hole in the Wall
I don't know about you, but my group of makan khakis (food buddies) and I have been plenty guilty of "reverse snobbery": "Oh, no more posh restaurants bedecked in stainless steel and frosted glass," we would snivel, "Give us originality. Give us boldness. Give us fiery character and soul!"
We were eager to pour scorn on cookie-cutter establishments and desperate to discover little-known, "hole in the wall" eateries. How smugly we would initiate others into the joys of roadside dining and other secret squirrel hideaways. And what a bunch of obnoxious twits we were.
For my pride's sake, I wish I could claim we were on a quest for good food, nothing more. Unfortunately, we were also drunk on the notion of us as gastronomic Indiana Jones. Like I said, twits.
Traveling in India this past week, there have been many remarkable sights. The one that made me do a double-take (and put me firmly in my place), was when I stumbled upon a true "hole in the wall." Down an alley, this chai walla (tea hawker) was operating, literally, from a hole in the wall. It was as if he had taken a hammer and chisel and patiently set to work at etching a pantry-sized depression—no more than a forearm's length—in the side of a building. If you look closely, you can see there are wooden planks for shelves, as well as a charcoal stove for heating water.
His customers were munching on biscuits, sipping sweetened and spiced milk tea from tiny terracotta cups, not seeming to mind the lack of a "sit down" at all.
I don't know what I'm going to call the little eateries I'm so fond of anymore. Compared to this, they're certainly not holes in the wall.
About the author: Wan Yan Ling is an impoverished grad student and sourdough finger-crosser living in Rhode Island. She can usually be found in the kitchen procrastinating on "real work" or online tracking down obscure recipes. Ling thinks eating alone is no fun, and she still believes in hand-mixing.