Look Before You Drink


A few years ago, I found myself in Varanasi, India with my friends Eric and Alan. One night, we decided to venture to a hotel bar to relax, throw back a few drinks, and mingle with some locals.

Upon stepping into the bar, however, we immediately stepped out of our comfort zone. The place we’d chosen to go to wasn’t really a bar but rather a fancy restaurant that happened to serve alcohol. The place was expansive with lots of dark wood, gold, and ivory decorations. We quickly ordered three beers and some small food plates to save face and took a seat.

It was quite late in the evening, so we were the restaurant’s only patrons and so had the entire tuxedoed staff buzzing around our table to observe us and take care of our every need. They brought out each small plate we ordered as if it were a full course and split it for us onto our own plates with a friendly smile. It was quite a bit more than we were used to or needed, but after a while, we started getting into it.

“Sir, would you like a new fork?”

Of course! Why would I wish to contaminate the chicken tikka masala dish with the fork I just used to taste the palak paneer?

After we had finished eating, the staff cleared the table and placed a bowl in front of us. The bowl was filled with some faintly yellow-colored liquid. I glanced at Alan. He shrugged. I placed my hand over the bowl. Heat rose to meet it. It seemed an odd time to be serving soup at a meal, so it probably wasn’t that. I looked over at Eric to see if he had any idea what it was. He was in the middle of gulping it down.

One of the staff saw this, and for the first time that night, didn’t know exactly what to do. He hesitated, ”Sir, that’s, umm, for your fingers.”

Alan and I started laughing. Eric, not knowing how to react, put his face in his napkin and started laughing too. The staff tried to stifle their smiles but couldn’t for long. They began laughing as well.

The bowl in front of us was filled with a light lemon tea meant for washing the residues and smells of the meal off our fingers.

We had been exposed as a group of ignorant travelers; but for the first time that night, the staff treated us as plain old folks, not as customers, and that was just fine with us. Relaxing, throwing back a few, and mingling with the locals, we were back in our comfort zone.


(bowl photo courtesy of Greatfood/Dreamstime.com)