In his novel Shantaram, Gregory David Roberts wrote that “The Indians are the Italians of Asia”.
At first I thought that Roberts’ words were a liberal stretch of the imagination. But after various visits to Italy, I’ve come to realise that the two countries have more in common than just the enigmatic Mrs Sonia Gandhi.
Always capitalise the “f” in Food.
Okay, so maybe Indians don’t eat a lot of pasta but our attitudes towards mealtimes are incredibly similar:
- We eat late;
- The table must groan under the weight of all the food;
- If you don’t ask for seconds and thirds you risk upsetting the chef.
As you can imagine, the above when enacted together, gives you a horrible case of indigestion. This is exactly what happened on a weekend in the Piedmont region of Italy.
M. and I found ourselves in a little village called Seralunga after our wine tasting spree in its well known neighbour, Barbaresco. As the wine came with various varieties of cheese and crackers, we weren’t very hungry, which was a good thing as it was only 5 pm and the restaurants were not due to open for a couple of hours at least.
As it started to rain, we found refuge in a wine bar where I committed the cardinal sin of asking for an orange juice.
While the bar owner mocked my choice of non-alcoholic beverage (I was made to understand that even asking for water wouldn’t have been so bad…), I did my best to ignore him.
When we did finally make it over to the restaurant for dinner, M. and I weren’t any hungrier than before, unfortunately.
Italian is not high on the repertoire of my linguistically inclined husband. And so, despite his best efforts to order a small plate of pasta and a glass of wine for dinner, we found ourselves being served a full bottle of wine and a five course meal. And so we committed cardinal sin number two, which was not finishing either.
While the restaurant owner did little to hide her disappointment, I tried to explain that it wasn’t what we ate that was the problem, but how much. (A side note: it seems that both the Indian and Italian communities love to send their young on guilt trips.)
La famiglia is always numero uno
M. and I did the said wine tasting in Barbaresco at a family run winery. The owner’s son, who was recovering from a late night out, tried his best to explain his family’s wines to us, while apologising profusely for being so hung over on the job.
His Nona on the other hand, didn’t seem too impressed with his shenanigans from the night before and made no bones about it. When he went in the back to bring out more wine, Nona voiced her displeasure (loudly).
As in India, it’s not odd for several generations to live under one roof, for lengthy periods of time. And when we talk about family, we include everyone including grandparents, uncles, aunties, cousins, nieces and nephews. It’s the Indian and Italian way, which is probably why I feel so at home with the latter.
Just don’t mess with Nona.
You can drive any way you want – so long as you stay on the road (well, kind of…)
As you cross into Italy from Switzerland, the traffic suddenly gets crazier. And as you go further south into the country drivers suddenly start to overtake on blind turns and think nothing of using their bumpers to nudge you into a roundabout against your will. Pedestrians are treated with less respect than cyclists and hesitation of any kind is not tolerated.
M. does a stellar job of driving in Italy. So you would have thought it would have been enough preparation for driving on Indian roads. However, he refused to get behind the wheel of car in India. Apparently you’d have to be mad or have a death wish to dare take on Indian traffic. Surprisingly Italians who have visited India have said the same thing.
Maybe we are just that little bit different after all…