With love from Barcelona, Paela
It was sometime around 2000. We were in San Francisco. Office meeting.
Philippe and I.
After meeting, dinner. Philippe asked ‘Where would you like to go Raj Shankar?’
‘A French Restaurant, with a French. Perhaps you can help me get introduced to French cuisine!’ I said.
Philippe laughed. ‘Let me introduce you to a different Cuisine today. Spanish.’
I said ‘We’. The only French I knew. In consent.
It was a small restaurant in a dark lane. Philippe ordered. ‘Paela’.
I inquired. He said ‘Wait. You will like it. Rice and sea food and cheese.’
The dish came. A young waitress served. Broken English. ‘What more, gentlemen?’ Courtesy talk. Philippe spoke in Spanish.
Dinner over. The owner. An aged lady came. ‘How was the dinner?’ In Spanish.
‘Magnific’. Philippe said.
As we walked out into the alley, in the dark we saw a figure. Below a lamppost. The waitress.
To Philippe she said something in fast Spanish. Quite agitated.
Philippe a kind man. Placed his palm on her shoulder. On her head. Almost like a father. Blessing a daughter.
Then she took a pen. And on a paper scribbled something.
And before Philippe said anything more. She ran away. Into the restaurant.
Philippe too was a little moved.
I asked ‘what happened?’
Philippe smiled. And said.
‘This girl has recently come from Catalonia. A month back. She said that she was surprised that we liked this Paela we ate today. This is nothing near the original taste of Paela. She said that her mother cooks the best Paela in the world. She wrote down her address. And she said if you ever visit Spain, you could visit her house and have Paela cooked by her mother. She hopes that one day you will have real Paella.’
‘Where does she live in Spain? I asked.
‘Near Barcelona’ Philippe said.
Yesterday I had Paela in Barcelona. It was way better than any Paella I have had before.
But this was only way better. Because the best Paella is cooked by the Ma of a girl who was once a waitress in an unknown restaurant in San Francisco.