Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Happy Naan Cafe

[This is not my usual post - no pictures and a different writing style.  But I can't stop thinking about this little adventure and I want to get it down on "paper"!]

Katherine, my fourth grade foodie, has been asking to try Indian food for the past two years.  I keep telling her to talk to Aunt Robie about that, because I don't know enough about Indian food to order it in a restaurant.  Today Kate's food wish is coming true.  We have come to Kansas City because she has had a very minor surgical procedure that, for insurance reasons, could only be performed by a specialist at the children's hospital four hours away.  My sister Robin has come along to be a companion, chief navigator, and moral support.  And because her favorite Indian restaurant is here.

Robie directs us to a non-descript strip mall in an office park in the leafy suburb of Overland Park.  It's an odd place for a restaurant, and at first I don't even see it.  Then I notice the sign - Korma Sutra.  Katherine is oblivious to the word play, but Robie and I have a private smirk.  The restaurant is a tiny hole-in-the-wall place with Crayola colored walls and kitschy Indian decorations.  It is obviously an informal place, but there are linen napkins and heavy glass drinking goblets on the tables.  The owner greets us by shouting "Happy naan!" and leads us to a corner table. He urges us to try the buffet and "Eat, eat, eat!"

We grab plates and start down the line.  The first dish is labeled "goat".  Katherine spoons some on to her plate, commenting "I've never had goat."  As she serves herself some of everything on the buffet, nearly all of which is unrecognizable, I marvel at my 9 year old who will eat anything!  Of course, Robin and I will eat just about anything, too.

By the time we return to our table, glasses of mango lassi (a yogurt drink) and chai (spiced tea) have appeared at our places.  The owner runs over hollering "Happy naan! Happy naan!" and flings flatbread on our table.  A minute later he appears with a tureen of some sort of meat in red sauce and sits in front of Kate.  "For you!" he says.  "Not spicy!  Delicious!"  And it is.  We eat and eat - chicken in red sauce, chicken in orange sauce, potatoes in yellow sauce, some sort of creamed spinach, red-dyed tandoori chicken, rice, mango pudding, fried dough soaked in syrup.  I have no clue what most of it is, but it tastes fabulous.

As we eat, a waitress continually refills our chai cups and tops off our lassi drinks.  The owner pushes more naan.  Katherine sucks the meat off a goat bone and announces, "I want to come back here.  We should leave Dad at home, though.  The only things he would eat are rice and naan.  And those doughnut things."  Her own plate has been scraped clean.  A moment later she is off for seconds.  Robie watches us both in amusement and satisfaction.

I look around the restaurant, which is suddenly packed.  Every table and nearly every chair are occupied.  There are a few middle aged couples, lots of business men, and many young Indian men stuffing themselves with comfort food.  The owner is everywhere, setting up tables, greeting people, and shouting "Happy naan!" at a frenetic pace.  Every few minutes he rushes out of the kitchen with a dish of food and deposits it on a table, slopping helpings on the plates of his startled customers.  "Chili makes you strong!" he instructs.  "Happy naan!"  It is a fun place to be.

At some point, we realize that we are beyond full.  More naan has just been tossed in our bread basket and the lassis topped off yet again, but we are too stuffed to touch them.  The ever entertaining owner acts as if we have disappointed him by not eating thirds and offers to pack food up for us to take home.  We pay our bill and he foists to-go chai on Robie and me and gives Kate a handful of balloons.  We waddle outside with our stomachs aching and climb into the car in a sort of food coma.  "I love Indian food!" Katherine says and we all agree that it has been a perfect meal.  Happy naan!

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