Peter was German by birth. While still in his early 20s, he moved to Mexico, fell in love with a lovely Mexican girl, married her and stayed on there for close to two decades. When I first met him, he had already moved to the US and acquired an American accent. But that was about all: the drooping moustache, the colourful shirts, the easy charm, the laid-back approach to life and the passionate fondness for spicy food proclaimed him to be a true-blue Mexicano at heart.
Whenever Peter visited India on work, I used to travel with him to all the major metros including Hyderabad. After working-hours, it was the unwritten agreement that we go out for dinner together and I introduce Peter to the local cuisine, the spicier the better. Peter was unfazed at whatever I threw at him, whether it was a piping hot Rasam in Chennai, fiery Kozhi Varutha Curry in Mysore, or Chicken Kolhapuri in Mumbai which would have easily cauterized the taste buds of a lesser mortal. Peter enjoyed every meal and held forth at length on how similar, yet different, were the cuisines of India and Mexico; he had this strange thesis that Indian spices affected the inside of the mouth whereas the Mexican chilli peppers gave you a burning sensation around the lips.
Once we are in Bangalore and Peter expresses a wish to have a typical South Indian breakfast. We have been on the road for almost a week and I have been getting rather tired of the “orange juice-toast-fried eggs” routine. Happily acceding to his request, I take him the next day morning to a very popular South Indian restaurant.
It is seven-thirty in the morning and not very crowded. We start with idlis which I tutor him how to have, with chutney, sambar and other accompaniments. Peter takes to idlis with gusto, breaking off large pieces and dipping them alternatively in chutney or sambar and plopping them into his mouth with obvious relish. Four plates of idlis go down the hatch pretty quickly when I, still on my first plate, order for Masala Dosas.
The Masala Dosas when they come are a treat to the senses, golden-brown, crisply folded, and exuding a heavenly aroma that brings tears to my eyes. Peter takes his first mouthful, closes his eyes in intense concentration, opens them and beckons the waiter. He dismisses my wordless query with a gentle, dismissive wave and asks the waiter for a plate of cut green-chillies.
As I watch in consternation, Peter opens the flap of the Masala Dosa and empties the entire bowl of finely chopped green chillies into the filling, replaces the flap and calmly resumes eating.
“It tastes even better now,” he says laconically.