A couple of years ago, Fate, the cards and my wonderful family decided to spend the summer touring Spain and Greece. Exams had ended, the heat in Bangalore had peaked and the excitement was at an all-time high, when Fate threw us our first yorker. The Spanish Embassy had switched my sister’s photograph with mine in our respective visas, who would’ve thunk? But there was no stopping us come hellish visa faux pas or high water.
Our bags were packed with the ‘food bag’ right on top lest the Happy Hour snacks were crushed.
I’m going to deviate here for a second, and trust me, what I’m about to tell you is essential to this anecdote!
The ‘food bag’ is the holy grail for all things marvelous, gastronomically speaking. The bespoke collection of condiments makes Nigella Lawson yearn for it and Jamie Oliver green with envy at the mere thought! Truth is, my family and I are obsessed with food. While sitting for breakfast we discuss lunch, domestic flight baggage more often than not consists of food – biryani from Eden Park for the Mumbaikars, guava cheese from Bandra for the Bangaloreans, you get my drift right?
You’re probably wondering what the shmoozle all this has to do with our summer holiday. Well let me explain, the food bag gives my dad in particular, as well as the rest of us to a lesser degree, peace of mind. When the ecstasy from devouring the salted meats of Spain wears off, a little taste of rasam and rice with a spot of beef pickle sends my father into a tizzy of happiness.
My sister and brother are big fans of the food bag too, especially because when all else fails that bottle of prawn pickle can always be trusted. My mum’s contribution you ask? Well packing the damn thing of course! After all who wants that detergent resistant blood red oil spilling all over, or the butter chaklis reaching the Mediterranean powdered? Answer me that!
Sunny Barcelona, 10 days into the trip, after having previously witnessed a carnal bull fight in Madrid, our spirits were battered and the thought of beef steaks and patatas bravas made our stomachs revolt, with reason.
The apartment we were staying at, located just off the Las Ramblas, was buzzing with an eccentric lot of people, among whom my dad befriended a Bengali man named Budhadeb. After bonding over several cups of tea, my dad let Budhadeb in on the food bag secret. “How about I trade you a packet of sesame ladoos for a handful of toor dal for the rasam I’m going to make tonight, you see my family is craving Indian food!”
Within minutes ladoos swapped hands in addition to a little packet of food and shaving cream which Budhdeb wanted to send for his nephew in Bangalore. The nephew is apparently still in a Movember (no shave November) state of mind, and without his uncle’s shaving cream, won’t be able to live a hairless existence. Before we knew it, Gaudi’s House was bid a happy ciao and a bowl of piping hot rasam, fluffy white rice; a bottle of my aunt’s prawn pickle was cracked open and the rest is history.
The beauty of the food bag is throughout the course of the holiday, it is constantly full. While we trade ladoos and snack on cashew nuts, a whole host of local delicacies replace those empty spaces!
I did warn you we were food obsessed! The Serrano ham from the farmers market was the first one to cut the mustard! I love that I managed to weave in a food reference there again too, yes, pun intended. This was followed swiftly with an assortment of cheeses; Manchego from La Boqueria, my siblings’ favourite; the strong and smelly Blue, my favourite; smoked cheddar. Olives; green, black, pitted, and Kalamata, pimentos, pickles, red peppers stuffed with feta, back to the meats; Chorizo, Iberico you name it we had it!
Cut to Greece, tucked away on the island of Crete was a little convent run by the cloistered nuns, known for their crystal clear honey! Several hymns and blessings later we were lucky enough to get our hands on a bottle of golden goodness all wrapped up and ready to cross the seas! A few more barbecue rubs, some sumac spice, a little Grecian kebab seasoning, sausages and Athenian chili flakes later we were all set up!
Rolling our suitcases down the galley way onto the shores of Athens, smiling from ear to ear we took a minute to soak in the last few minutes of our holiday before heading to the airport to drop off our bags. Since we had an evening flight we thought we’d spend some of the afternoon meandering through the streets of Athens, one last time.
We walked over to the taxi stand where we were greeted by a warm taxi driver, “Aah madaam, come theez way, I show you amazing Athens ey you been before madaam?
Manos, our taxi driver was the chosen one. ‘Aaah, I see, you have a lot of bagg-age, eez a no problem ay, I ‘ave a rope’
Manos being a big, striking man took it upon the Herculean task of packing the bags into the trunk, and stuffing us into his car. While four passengers is the official norm, my petite sister was considered a half.
Ten minutes later Manos hooked the last end of the rope to the bumper and calls my father and brother over and asks, ‘Meester, what you think ey? Eez theez tight and properrr? Aay, noo problem, naathing will fall, see (and while looking at my sister, prompts her), You! Baby, caam eere and ey try to pull the bagg-age. See, it’s nota going anywhere! Opa, now we go, maadaam would you ey like to seet in front? Ey, maybe eez more comfortable for Papa at the back, ay, you eet well so hahaaha, more space?”
My mother was so enamored by his accent, ignored the diss he had hurled her way and dived into the front seat, giggling.
We turned onto the street and started racing towards the airport, to drop our luggage before heading out into the city. The discourse soared like a Beethoven Sonata from the Greek Economy and Slumdog Millionaire to Manos travelling to India and eating fried feesh (fish) wiz ay, what you call ay, indian bread, Rothi?
Cruising at the almighty speed of 130 kmph on the freeway, my sister suddenly notices a man in the adjacent car pointing at us. She casually glances over and says, “I think that guy is talking to us” The four of us at the back, packed like sardines in a tin, start leaning forward to make eye contact with the guy, when we see him giving us the hitch hiking signal. Confused we leaned back and drove on. But Manos knew something was up.
Now unlike in India were you can slowly down and swerve your way on to a side lane, the Greek freeways well are endless so you have to wait for a checkpoint of sorts. Fortunately a couple blinks away we spotted green check point. Manos swerved onto the side of the road and got out.
All of us looked at each other puzzled. Manos springs out of the car and reemerges after a couple of minutes. Flushed and fidgety he gets back into the driver’s seat and says calmly, ‘Madaam we lost a bagg-age’
Given Manos’ funny streak which we were subjected to a little earlier, my mum looked at him and giggled, ‘Oh Mannos, how funny you are..’
When the response was pin drop silence, the penny dropped and a frenzy of thoughts started racing through our minds. WE LOST A BAG? It actually flew out? Whose bag was it? I hope it wasn’t my bag, I really spent hours curating my fall wardrobe thanks to the 3500 Zara’s splattered all over Spain. Oh F&*k, what if the cops come and count the passengers in the cab and fine us! Which bag? Purple? Dad’s suitcase?
Manos by this time was on the phone hollering in Greek, talking to Road Assistance. With Suspense hanging on a frail thread, my sister leapt out of the car to check…
It was the death of the food bag.
The shock and horror rendered us all speechless. Within minutes, Road Assistance had pieced together the Curious Case of the Food Bag. It had shot out of the trunk, ricocheted off an oncoming Mercedes truck and due to the impact with which it met the bumper, burst open and exploded into a million little foodie fragments.
The figs for my diabetic grandmother were smothered with shaving foam, once intended for Budhadeb’s nephew. The olives married the pimentos and were having an oily affair with the ham. The cheese was spread across the tarmac as though it was a salted cracker. As for the array of sausages and salted meat, well they literally looked like road kill.
A moment of silence was observed while Alex Papodoupolis, the Road Assistant scooped the remains of the food bag into a huge body bag, the kind they use when there’s actually a case of road kill.
As for Manos? Well, what can I say, he promised my dad that his insurance company would cover the damage, and continued to drive us to the airport where we dropped our bags, sans le food baggage.
A week after returning home honeyless and hamless, my dad called Manos to find out about the insurance. I’ll leave it to you to piece together the rest, and just say, “Efxaristo Manos!”, in other words, “Thank You Manos!”, in Greek.