Food For Thought

Zoe BennettLSE


If you bring up the topic of Indian cuisine to a Londoner, the name ‘Dishoom’ will often pop up as a well-known place close to home in which one can experience a “traditional Bombay café”. It has become popular enough in recent years to allow several new branches to open up around the city, with each location boasting long queues at peak times. I’m not sure why my friend and I decided that this would be a good place to have my last supper in the UK, but there we were, sat at a table in Dishoom less than 24 hours before I embarked from Heathrow to the very city that it aims to emulate.

Once I had arrived in Mumbai (Bombay), I quickly found that mealtimes were far more hectic in the hot and humid monsoon weather. Myself and a few other interns decided to eat at the iconic Leopold café, in which we were just some of many customers crammed into the lively and vibrant space that lacked any sense of an orderly queue outside. Breakfast and dinner at the guesthouse where I’m now staying in Kolkata is no less busy - for each person sat around the table, these meals could be more adequately described as feasts that involve many plates, bowls, cups and glasses being passed around the large square table.

The distinctively warm sense of Indian hospitality that I have experienced so far on my trip is something that I have found to missing at Dishoom among the handful of times that I’ve been. For example, during Ramadan, despite the fact that many of us are not practising Muslims, all the residents of the guesthouse were given a small plate of fruit, chickpeas and samosas to eat an hour or so before dinner. We were told that this could be our way of trying out the foods that are eaten for Iftar, the daily meal that breaks the fast for Muslims during this time. On the day of Eid, which marks the end of the month of Ramadan, myself and the other interns working at Tata Medical Centre were invited by our colleague Shazia to have dinner at her house with her family to celebrate the end of Ramadan. I don’t think I’ve ever had so many dishes and courses in one sitting. After my third different dessert, I was so stuffed - I never wanted to see a paratha again (only kidding, they’re my favourite!)

What about lunchtimes during the workday at the medical centre you may ask? In the staff cafeteria, you sit down with your thali armed only with a plastic spoon and your hands to eat with. Another intern asked for more cutlery to accompany these tools, and to their surprise, was presented with a small kitchen knife, as this was all that was available. I have stuck with a spoon mostly and I haven’t yet tried scooping up rice with my hands, as so much of the staff at the medical centre find natural to do. However, I have adapted somewhat because a knife at the dinner table now seems almost foreign to me. I wonder what it will be like when I return home in September to have my first Sunday roast in over 2 months…