Earlier today, I get a text message from a friend asking if hubby and I were free at 1pm for a special lunch thing. I’m always keen to catch up with friends, but the “special lunch thing” really piqued my interest. Shortly after, I get an email. It tells me where to go at 1pm, what’s on the menu (a yummy sounding South Indian vegetarian banquet) and, because this meal involves traditional dining with banana leaves, how to eat the meal with hands. At this point, my ever-increasing vegetable anxiety was tempered by this oh-so-curious email.
1pm sharp, hubby and I pull up outside a lovely house in a local suburb. My friend Clare happens to pull up at the same time. We cautiously approach the front door, unsure what to expect. We’re greeted by the friendly host, Shreeya. Shortly after, more fellow diners starts showing up. We sit in the living room, warmed by the gorgeous Canberra afternoon sun streaming through the large windows. We make introductions. It’s Canberra. We’re all related in some way. I find out that some my fellow diners have just been to the snow, some have attended one of our past TEDxCanberra events, one knows a lot about Bonsai but we all have love of good food in common and we’re all pretty excited about the meal to come.
This is my first introduction to the concept of Guerrilla Dining, also known as Underground Dining. If you’re like me and have never come across the term before, it’s like a paid dinner party. It’s popular in Latin America and there are lots of similar underground dining scenes around the world.
Back to the food.
We get called to the two tables. It’s not planned seating so I pick a table and get to know my fellow dinners while the food is being served. We exclaim over the various condiments that’s placed on the banana leaf. On the top left, there’s a bit of salt with home-made lime pickle (I’m not a fan of pickle, but this one is delish). Belowthe lime pickle, sits a very delicious lentil donut (vadai). There a red cabbage and lentil dry curry, spiced potatoes, a lentil stew made with cauliflower and zucchini (kootu) and a grated carrot salad. In the middle sits the basmati rice, with a dollop of ghee.
For the first course, Shreeya wanders from person to person, serving up a vegetable, lentil and tamarind stew. She explains to us how to eat with our hands. There’s definitely a technique to this. You use the tips of your fingers to pull the food together, with the thumb being used to help guide the food into your mouth. One of my fellow diners seem to struggle a bit, but the rest take to it like pros, mixing the curries, rice and condiments. I sip the accompanying drink – a milk and almond drink (badam kheer). It’s delicious and the almond adds a slightly crunchy texture to the drink.
The second course starts. It is a spicy, tangy, clear tomato soup (rasam), flavoured with fresh coriander. It’s very tasty. The third course is yoghurt and onions, served on rice. Due to my lactose intolerance, I could only get through a bit of this but there are lots of smiles and “yums” from my fellow diners around my table. The meal finishes with lightly spiced coffee or tea, with a milk based fudge like sweet called peda.
After the meal, we chit-chat for a bit before we said good-bye to our host and our fellow diners.
So, the verdict? Guerrilla dining is fun. It’s yummy and the experience was great (thanks to our lovely host Shreeya who made us feel welcome). I got to meet interesting people and I got to push some boundaries in terms of dealing with my vegetable anxiety. Thanks to Pia for introducing this concept to me. When’s the next one please?