One of my favourite sources of entertainment in India is very simple and incredibly easy to find: the menu.
Now, as we are traversing a country with a wide range of curry delicacies that are unfamiliar (not to mention unpronounceable) to the average tourist, I was prepared to find that I wouldn’t always understand everything listed for dinner. But what I hadn’t realised was the number of different spellings used for seemingly commonplace dishes. It seems the more foreign to India the food, the more scope for hilarious errors.
Breakfast is the first thing we are confronted with each morning, so before he has had his coffee P has to figure out if he wants “fride”, “scrembold” or “pochede” eggs. “Tost” is often available with “botter” or “honney”. “Indian musly – friut with card” may sound rather unappetising, until you realise that they are referring to muesli with curd, a type of yogurt. Different nationalities are not ignored, so that you can have a “Spenesh omlet” or “France toast”. However, these forays into international foods sometimes degenerate into complete unintelligibility, such as when we had to ask for a translation of a “coarsen”, to be told it was ‘breakfast pastry, you know, like in France’.
Fruit in general appears to present a few problems. Particularly lemon, which is more commonly known as “limon”. Or “liman”. Or “leman”. It seems any combination of vowels interspersed with the letters “l”, “m” and “n” will do. Longer fruits suffer the fate of being split in two, so that you can have “Pine Apple”, or even “Water Million” juice. And if you’re not in the mood for juice, there’s always “koka colar” or “sprit”. The bemusing thing is that the same word can be spelled in three or four different ways on the same page; are they hoping that if they include all possible permutations, at least one will be correct?
There is also a predominance of unexplained acronyms and abbreviations randomly placed throughout menus, so that you have to puzzle out for yourself that a ‘C.T.G. S/wiche’ is in fact a Cheese Tomato Garlic sandwich.
Pasta never fails to produce hilarity. On a sample menu, I was faced with a “choice of spaghetti, Tegliattli of Machroni”. I was then offered – no joke – the following varieties of sauce: “Tomato souse with chess”; “Funghi – con Pana Mush. in creamy with sause”; “Spenish mashroom Cennelloni”; and “Bloganice -Chicken”. No wonder eating in India can be hazardous – could you guarantee what I would be served from the above descriptions?
The same menu featured “Egg. Plant Tomato lasagne”. The British are always confused by this alternative way of expressing “aubergine”, but even Americans may be perplexed by this division of the vegetable into two separate words, the first apparently an abbreviation of something longer than just “Egg”.
Our guest house in the Andamans was no exception, with some very choice “Ala’ carte” offerings to keep me amused. Options included “franch fry” (or, more simply put, chips), “Posed eggs” (presumably eggs which have been poached, not just placed artistically on the plate) and under the heading “pancakes” was “Banana filter chocolet honnmey” (all I can deduce is some form of fritter involving banana, chocolate and honey).
My absolute favourite is the apparent availability of nuns; we were offered them in plain, butter or “garlick” variety for a mere 25 rupees. Evidently they go rather well with curry.