The last cake delivery on Saturday evening turned out to be something special, and not because it was the culmination of a weeks worth of mixing, baking and decorating. The last delivery of the week was to a guests’ house in East Vineland, and was two cakes for a joint anniversary and birthday party. I do most of the deliveries for the bakery, and consequently, I get the opportunity to take a little peek into the culinary traditions of families all over town. I love to see what people are preparing for their parties when I arrive with the cake, and because of the diverse population of Vineland, I see varied cultural and ethnic dishes all over town. But Saturday was special because I made my first delivery to an Indian family.
I wrote a while back about my love of Indian food. It’s definitely in my top three favorite ethnic cuisines (along with Mexican and Italian), but ever since my favorite Indian restaurant in Voorhees closed, I haven’t had it (aside from my attempting to make tikka masala once). So when I pulled up to the house on Saturday, cakes in tow, I was pleased to see two women in colorful sari’s working the grill. I immediately wondered what was cooking, secretly hoping that it wasn’t hot dogs and hamburgers, but something a little more exotic.
As I walked up, I could see that bluish white smoke was billowing out of the grill past bright orange cuts of chicken. That color signified to me that it was no ordinary chicken cooking… it was tandori chicken. How exciting. Of course, to be fair, tandori chicken is cooked in a tandori oven, this was the Americanized version, a tandori-style chicken. From what I know, tandori chicken is typically marinated in different spices and yogurt and the color comes from the spices that are used. These particular drumsticks looked awesome.
On the side of the grill was a pot of heated oil ready to deep-fry something yummy. I had to get these cakes inside though, so one of the sari-clad women took me in the house and showed me where to place the cakes. The house was cool, a sharp contrast to the extreme heat and humidity outside, and it was a welcome relief to be in there while a boy of about ten found the guest that ordered the cakes.
I couldn’t help but notice that the kitchen was loaded with foods laid out on the center island. All were covered with aluminum foil, and my mind could only imagine at what was inside each container. On the dining room table, more dishes were laid out, all covered as well. I was honestly getting jealous thinking about all that food, wishing that I could invite myself over later to join the party and to chow down at this Indian feast!
I chatted with another woman who wore a beautiful multi-colored sari about the food and about the celebration that would commence soon. I told her about living in San Francisco and eating at Naan n’ Curry several times a week, and how Spice Corner closed in Voorhees. She told me about Feathers in English Creek and suggested that I check it out sometime. She was very pleasant to talk with, and I lamented the fact that Vineland is without an Indian restaurant. Oh well, I thought, it would be a while before the spicy lure of Indian cuisine would pass my lips again.
After a few minutes, the guest that ordered the cake was found and came into the kitchen. She checked the cakes out and seemed pleased with them, and then casually offered me some food. Did I hear that right? Really? She told me that my wife had told her several weeks ago about our love of Indian cuisine, and so she insisted that I take some back to the bakery! She then excused herself to finish her preparations and said that the other woman would take care of me. I probably looked silly with the grin I must have had on my face…
Some sort of curried chicken was ladled into a container for me. In another container, a snack food called chaat was spooned into another container. Fried dough pieces went in first, followed by chickpeas, chopped onions, cilantro, cooked potato pieces, yogurt sauce, coriander chutney, and a dark reddish/brown tamarind sauce. Even the matriarch of the house got in on the act, making sure I had all the components and pulling stuff out of the fridge. This mixture was stirred and on the top went some spicy green chilies (at my request) and a pinch of garam masala, as they explained, for a little kick. Yay! I was so excited and she even sent me outside with a spoon and napkin so I could start eating in the car.
As I left, the two women at the grill insisted upon sending me out with food as well. The pot of oil had fritters of hard-boiled eggs and mint leaves in a curried batter. One was placed on a napkin for me, as were two drumsticks of the tandori-style chicken. A few pieces of battered, fried fish were given to me as well. I felt like a kid in a candy shop.
In the car, at the end of the driveway, I ate the fritter, which was sublime. Hot and crispy, with a touch of spice and heady curry flavor pleased my palate. I popped a few pieces of the fish into my mouth next, and the soft breading hinted of lemon and finished with a kick of spice. I dug into the curried chicken, but only took one bite because it was too messy for the car, but boy oh boy was it a good bite.
My wife is lucky that I love her so much, because I saved the rest to share with her. Back at the bakery, the two of our devoured it with embarrassing enthusiasm. It was all so good, and it made us genuinely happy to be eating homemade Indian food. To be treated to these goodies by guests of the bakery was really special, and to the family that did the treating, thank you! I know I’ve said it before, but I love the diversity of cultures in Vineland, it really is a special place full of special people.