I feel as though I’ve stepped into the fantasy world of Pandora from the film “Avatar.” The lush, landscaped gardens of Bangalore’s Taj West End hotel dazzle with tiny white lights, some dripping from trees like willow branches. Sitar music fills the air. As I move down the lit walkway, I’m handed a glass of strawberry lassi, a sweet, refreshing yogurt drink.
Tonight’s formal dinner is overseen by Farakh’s mother. Rarely in India does a wedding celebration include a seated dinner. The idea of coordinating one service for more than 300 guests is an ambitious one, especially in a culture where “on time” can mean “any time.”
As the guests enter the ethereal gardens, they are greeted by an elegantly dressed Farakh and Qurrath who pose for family photos on a gleaming white stage. An hour passes by (we arrived way too early, even for non-Indian time), then another. I keep snatching delicious veggie crostini from passing trays. Finally, it’s time for one last, fantastic feast.
The resort’s tennis courts are transformed into a stunning open air dining area, carpeted in red and strung with lights. More than thirty decorated tables fill the area, each with their own personal waiter. As I scan the colossal name list, I realize that I’ve been seated at the head table next to the groom. This reception is purely celebration; the head table is comprised of Farakh and Qurrath’s close friends and relatives. In other words, it’s the “fun” table, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.
As each course arrives, Farakh explains the extent of preparation the chef put into this dinner. Being unfamiliar with certain Muslim-Indian dishes, the chef took it upon himself to study and practice each course, especially this tender, spiced lamb leg. It may have been my favorite course of the evening.
After dinner and several desserts were served, the waiters presented us with a platter of green leaf pouches. The leaf is called betel leaf, and contains medicinal properties. The delicacy is called paan. The pouch contains a wild combination of slaked lime (yes, the stuff used in plaster, pesticides and root canal surgery), stimulating betel nuts, cardamom, anise, coconut and other spices.
Farakh tells me that it’s a digestive and breath freshener. He also advises me to place the entire leaf into my mouth before chewing. He also alerted his relatives nearby to watch. It’s the latter gesture that set off the warning bells in my head, but like any good foodie I’m always up for an edible challenge.
The shock of eye-watering flavor intensity was to be expected from the reaction of Farakh’s relatives, but it was still a shock nonetheless. My mouth was on fire, my sinuses expanded as if I had ingested a brick of wasabi. I kept chewing. Of course, my wide eyes and that slight flash of horror across my face immediately left the rest of Farakh’s non-Indian posse desperate for their own paan experience. Some spat it out; one daring friend was brought to tears (but it must be noted that she finished her entire portion.)
No traditional wedding reception is complete without the cutting of the cake.
After Farakh and Qurrath feed each other slices of their wedding cake, the ritual extends to the entire immediate family.
The dinner is a complete success. This evening’s celebration concludes a week filled with wedding festivities and traditional ceremonies. Farakh and Qurrath make a point to thank the entire staff for their excellent service.
We hike back through the now-darkened gardens to the ornate lobby of the Taj West End where we finish off a perfect evening with one more soft drink, or in my case a strawberry lassi. It has been nothing less that a privilege to share this week with Farakh, Qurrath and their friends and families. From the paper dosa to the paan, this has been an incredible cultural and culinary experience in Bangalore, India.
2010 Mileage Total: 16964