It was Sussi’s birthday and a celebration was customary. After a day of sunbathing in Monte Carlo and feeling small but shameless from all the display of wealth around us, she’d kindly decided to take me out for dinner. Her mother insisted. I was looking forward to it far too much, primarily because I hit a new low that day with inflated confidence. Not only did I bathe in the Mediterranean Sea in my underwear inside out (turns out wearing underwear requires computing power beyond my capabilities), I also walked around a kilometre with my dress stuck in my underwear, displaying my butt to the unfortunate folks of Nice. Eventually a very nice lady walked up to me to point it out, and I should have given her a badge saying “girl power” to express my true gratefulness at her words. But I only said thank you, Sussi and I laughed it off, and I walked away feeling like I had achieved something great. The reality of having exposed an my butt without feeling like I could get abducted and raped in the next few seconds was worth celebrating. Having had enough accidents with underwear for a week, and for a mood to have a fun night, Paella was chosen for dinner, with plentiful alcohol.
There is never a trip I have taken in this lifetime of 28 years where my focus has not been food. I simply do not know how else to travel, what to look forward to. During this Coronavirus lockdown, I have come to realise my life is nothing but a sequence of meals, anticipating one after the other. Moreover, in my head I am Anthony Bourdain’s cowardly, oppressed, unfortunate-nationality-and-weak-currency-combo apprentice, and so I survive on recreating mediocre versions of meals I consume in different countries, translating my excitement into a stream of repetitive words and consuming the food with gusto. But it is a Paella that I have never, and will never be able to, as long as I live in New Delhi, recreate in its authenticity and glory. I did come close to it with a paella mix, but I would not dare calling it authentic and anger the food gods that grace me with a giant appetite.
A paella, much to my annoyance, is a mix of everything great (so much of which is just not available in good quality where I live) and tastes sublime. It smells divine, landing comfortable on my Indian taste buds, and leaving behind a great deal of satisfaction after consumption usually in questionable and regrettable quantities. It often includes rabbit, chicken, chorizo, snails, mussels, squid, deeming the dish the composition of being considered the ideal next step for “leftovers”. It is a distant sister of a biryani, although much more flexible and accommodating of all kinds of meat. The delicate flavour of sea food and the glow of saffron when combined give this dish a profound sense of comfort. It is perfectly acceptable to shove magnificent quantities of the rice into your mouth, exercising with chewing the wide range of protein. I adored it, and even though eating it in France could be considered unauthentic, it was a bit daunting to think how much more delicious could a paella be in Spain. But to my reassurance, we were being served in a family run restaurant, and one can always trust home cooking to be warm and close to the richness and essence of a dish. Or is extremely mediocre with cost cutting everywhere. I know not for sure, but sliding bits of rabbit down my throat with a waterfall of wine was wise.
But it had peas, which I detest, so I needed further more beer after the meal to manage my post-peas-stress. Beer was 1664, year was not so. Paella was good to me, helped me remember my misadventures better in no way whatsoever, but felt worthy of consumption on a not-great-not-terrible day.