There is no better endorsement of a restaurant than one that is frequented by patrons who hail from the same part of the world as the food served there. When they do concede to eat there, it is always somewhat begrudgingly, rarely complimenting the food beyond, « It’s okay. » or, « I could have made the same thing at home for free. »
This particular restaurant is situated in a little strip mall I refer to as Little India, two traffic lights north of the street where my parents used to live and coincidentally, the same number of lights from the cemetery where my father’s remains are buried.
My father referred to himself as East Indian but in pre-Partition India, between the ages of eight to sixteen, he lived in what we now refer to as Pakistan. Shahi Palace serves Pakistani cuisine and is cheerfully amenable to dining in or take-out. It is a family-run restaurant which means boisterous children, visiting uncles and conciliatory ex-husbands are most welcome.
My dad’s favourite thing to order there, at least at one time, was mutton curry. He meant lamb, of course, but mutton sounded so much cooler. Nothing made him happier than treating family and friends to a meal and if he wasn’t going to cook one himself, he’d make reservations at Shahi Palace.
During the pandemic, like so many of us, he did mostly take-out and in the last few months of his life, when his congested heart could no longer tolerate the spicy, savoury food he so loved to eat, he ordered a special dish of no-salt brinjal (eggplant) curry, courtesy of the owner.
We managed to survive the sadness of Christmas Day without him, his absence so acutely obvious, and not wishing to host another bleak party, I suggested we plan a New Year’s Eve lunch at the restaurant, my way of simultaneously buffering that sadness while honouring it.
I called the restaurant to reserve a table of five for tomorrow noon under my family name. Without missing a beat, the owner said, « Cheema. Yes, I know him. »
Sometimes grief strikes like an arrow. This was one of those times.