Universally, very few things bind people the way food does. And endorsing this view emphatically, Jigar Pala opens a Chinese restaurant in Prabha Devi, Mumbai, taking a detour from his family’s legacy of well-established Udipi restaurant. Enter the ‘China Dragon’. He puts together a small yet skilled team, does up the ambience with all props authentic Chinese (almost), keeps the finances in place, spreads the word and instils an enthusiastic wave into his establishment to go that extra mile to delight customers. But does that turn out to be enough?
In ‘Days of My China Dragon’, Choudhury weaves a delightful story around a restaurateur’s life. Through Pala’s palate, one bites into the bittersweet crust of a business that never sleeps; the glory achieved on the happy visage of one customer can be threatened immediately by the next with a rapidly-forming frown, a perfectly cooked meal can meet its nemesis in a clumsy waiter, a business milestone can be achieved at the exact moment of lowering shutters just the way an ancient gastronomic secret can emerge when least expected, a perfectly harmonious kitchen can be jeopardised by one weird maverick chef just as much as it can be by the neighbourhood competitor. From a couple who bond over the restaurant’s food to a father’s advice that helps tide tough times, from an idiosyncratic urge to own a life-sized dragon statue to meeting a bulk order that leaves the team thin, the book simmers with abundant humor and insights, heart-warming tales (as only a nostalgic meal can elicit) and heart-breaking decisions.
I rounded up my visit to China Dragon in three days and I am happy to relay that it is doing fine. You might like to visit it. Here, take this sample the team asked me to offer to future customers:
“Sent from Lisbon by his King to discover the sea route to India and help Portugal seize the spice trade from the Arabs, Vasco da Gama plotted the course of a small ship in a never-ending ocean for which he had no map, fought off pirates, survived storms, hunger, and scurvy, quelled numerous mutinies among his men, endured fifteen months on sea before he sighted the coast of Malabar, ingratiated himself with the king of Calicut, and voyaged back home to Lisbon triumphant with a booty of gold, black pepper, nutmeg and Old Monk rum.
Sent by me from the China Dragon to buy fifty grams of black pepper from Nagodoshi Wadi, the new waiter Pintu Masurkar missed the turn for the market, felt too shy to approach anybody for directions, fell into a manhole while looking around for street signs, fought off two children who wanted him to buy their bus fare to Dadar, was nearly run down by a car while trying to cross the road near Taj Birdy’s cake shop, and jumping back onto the pavement, was surprised by a miaow near his ankle and came back to the Dragon with a bleeding kitten and a tube of Boroline.“