We seem to talk about fast food like it’s a bad thing. In some instances it might well be. But look a little closer and you’ll see that there’s a big difference between fast food and food that moves really fast. You only have to visit a South Indian cafe to see why.
Take Brahmin’s Coffee Bar for instance, where there’s always a hungry crowd to feed but the line moves at the speed of light. In fact, dawdle about at the cashier a minute too long, debating between idli, vada idli and khara bath and you stand to get yelled at. “Move along already! Can’t you see there’s a queue?” shouts the owner who already has change for Rs 500 ready because he just knows the denominations coming his way based on your order the number of people accompanying you.
It’s a bar all right, in the chaos it creates. There are people standing helter skelter, inside the bar and outside on the pavement. There isn’t a chair in sight and the tables, or what look like tables, are merely plastic trays in which to dump your plates and glasses once you’re finished. These too are cleared out frequently to keep up with the volume of diners entering every minute and others queuing up again to place another order.
The food arrives in an instant. The idlis are soft and still steaming. The vadas are crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. The khara bath needs a few seconds to settle down but once it does, it’s filled with flavour, spice and a hint of crunch. The coffee is scalding and there isn’t an inch on which to place it as you blow on your fingers while going for extra helpings of green chutney. Word of advice: take an extra pair of hands just so you can eat comfortably.
Don’t have an extra pair of hands? Use your car’s roof as a table or the cleanest part of the pavement. We got lucky and found a big stone on which we perched. The meal was simple and delicious, the chutney, divine. You can see why there’s a special counter to dole out ladles of extra chutney, free of cost too! The filter coffee had just the right balance of sweet and strong brew with a little milk to take the edge off.
Fast food isn’t the same as food that moves really fast. The former requires a label to warn you that its contents are ‘hot’. The latter doesn’t need a label. Real food never does.