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Food: Krishna, Curry And Bollywood Nights Romantic Films And Krishna's Birthday Feast Add Up To An Indian Food Obsession

by Amber Billingsley, The Catalyst Magazine, Salt Lake City

Posted December 15, 2005

I know I can't be the only one who becomes fixated on a certain food, whether based on flavor, style, texture or region. I go through periods where all I want to put in my mouth is Creole food or ice cream. Sometimes I throw pecans into everything I cook, or I eat flan every day for weeks on end. My husband does this with music; he will hear a song that strikes a chord, and he will play it over and over again until he becomes enveloped by it, until he knows every nuance, until he can sing every word. By that time I never want to hear the song again, and some threatening ensues. I assume he feels the same way when I somehow incorporate plums into every meal I make.

My most recent obsession is with Indian food. I am lost in the land of curries and kormas, pooris and samosas. I can't get enough of the sweet and spicy flavors and the complex spices that characterize that cuisine. My dreams are peppered with the aromas of cardamom, cinnamon and turmeric. I've even managed to slip some chai masala spice into the scones that I bake in the morning at the bakery where I work.

It all started with a story assignment, a Sunday afternoon at the Tower Theatre featuring Bollywood film and treats from Curry in a Hurry. These film parties happen every couple of months. I had no idea what a Bollywood film was, but always want to be where the good food is. I invited along my friend Cassidy who had recently returned from a trip to India and was eager for a chance to revel in some of the memories. We met outside the theater doors, from which the rich scent of spices emerged. Cassidy reminisced about the food she ate while in northern India - the fresh mangoes, the hot, oily food from the street vendors, the homemade paneer (cheese), and also about the children she met at the school that her university class was helping to build, and the families with whom they stayed and shared meals.

The film was a sensory roller-coaster of lush landscapes, unreasonably gorgeous people, sporadic and somewhat alarming song and dance numbers, and montages that celebrate the gorgeousness of the characters. All of this mixed with some damn fine romantic comedy and tear-jerking drama. Midway, at intermission, Cassidy and I held on to each other's arms and gasped, "wow!" to each other as we made our way to the lobby for samosas and chai.

Our samosas were hot and flaky little turnovers of fried dough stuffed with softly spiced potato, peas and onion. We dipped our savory treats into sauces of sweet tamarind and cool and pungent cilantro. The chai was spicy, milky and sweet, complementing the mild heat of the samosas.

The lights went down and the audience squealed loudly in unison as the too-pretty-for-words hero and heroine appeared onscreen. The rest of the film was just as funny and sweet as the first half, showing an ideal world where nothing and no one is ugly, mean or dirty. The film reminded me of Technicolor musicals of the 1940s, when people went to the movies to escape the realities of war, with the same sense of fantasy and optimism.

We left the theatre elated, teased and tantalized, eager to extend our experience with even more Indian food. We made plans to meet at the Krishna Temple in Spanish Fork the following weekend for the Transcendental Birthday Party of Lord Krishna, a very significant spiritual holiday observed in the Hindu religion.

The temple sat atop a dark hillside, glowing with a zillion tiny lights, an unexpected palace of exotica in rural Spanish Fork. Cassidy, my friend Patricia and I removed our shoes outside the arched temple doors and made our way up a flight of stairs to where we heard music and laughter. We came upon richly costumed actors in the midst of a play about the birth of Lord Krishna. An Indian dancer by the name of Shreelata Suresh came in from San Francisco for the evening. We were completely captivated, both by the ancient dance form she performed and by her beauty.

Devotees of Krishna chanted, clapped, drummed, sang and whirled themselves into religious ecstasy while an endless line of people passed by a figurine of Lord Krishna and bathed him with sweetened water from a golden goblet. This culminated at the stroke of midnight with flowers and rose petals showering the altar and a heightened pitch of chanting, drumming and bell-ringing.

By this time we were wonderfully dizzy from the spectacle, and also famished. We made our way down to the dining room; I almost cried at the sight of an unbelievable buffet of vegetarian Indian food. There were creamy turmeric potatoes, spicy chickpeas in a tomato sauce, savory little pastries, chunks of paneer bathed in silky spinach, saffron-flecked basmati rice, bowls of fresh fruit, crispy lentil papadum, and my favorite, sweet semolina pudding with blueberries and pineapple. We ate in silent bliss and drank cups of mango lassi, thanking Shree Krishna for sharing this divine birthday feast with us.

After bathing in the intricate flavors of this divine cuisine, I realize my obsession has transcended to a lasting love. These experiences have created an indelible mark on my palate - they have become a part of me. I will seek out these flavors again and again, and each time they will conjure rich images in my mind of ringing bells, benevolent gods, whirling jewel-colored sarees, handsome leading men, sacred incense, and happy endings.

*For information on the next Bollywood film event at the Tower call Sunny at Curry in a Hurry, 467-4137.

For upcoming events at the Krishna Temple in Spanish Fork, www.utahkrishnas.com.