I had recently moved to US. I ate out a lot, but since I cooked Indian food at home, I usually tried different cuisines when eating out.
One day, I was feeling quite homesick. Driving around, I saw a quaint little Pakistani restaurant and pulled over.
A lady of about 50 welcomed me. I ordered Kadhai chicken, garlic naan and mango lassi. It took quite a while for my order to arrive which the same lady brought.
As I started eating, she sat on the chair in front of me. Found it quite weird, to be honest.
“”How is the food ”
“Aunty, it’s delicious”
Her eyes lit up.
“I cooked the chicken and uncle cooked naan”
Me surprised, “”Oh I didn’t know you cook yourself”
“Yes we do. It’s a small business. We can’t afford staff. Moreover we like to cook”
Throughout my meal, she was sitting with me and telling me stories of Lahore and I, for a moment felt as if I was at home, eating with my family.
Suddenly, she remembered something.
“Sweets, would you like to have some pakodas? Uncle just now fried some. We have to send a large order for a party”
“No thank you Aunty, this is more than enough for me”
“Oh then take some home. I will go and pack it.”
Now I started wondering if all that sweet talk was some pretence and she just wanted to rip me off by making me buy left over food.
She came back with a packet. I paid the bill and went home.
At home, I took out the packet and saw that she had packed pakodas, samosas, a small chat bowl and so many other eatables. I saw the bill and realised that she had charged me only for what I ordered. This gesture of hers meant so much to me in that particular moment. I had tears in my eyes.
For the next two years, this restaurant became a regular dining spot for me. It was my happy place. She always asked me about the dates of Indian festivals and made sure to send a small packet of awesome food on those days. Whenever I missed my mom, I drove to that restaurant and Aunty was always there, happy to give me company and tell me stories of her days in Pakistan.