My college town was THE college town. I mean it. A lot of people owe Berkeley, California, for flinging them into a culturalpoliticalacademicculinary hodgepodge of straight-up bewilderingspectacularkaleidoscopic sights and sounds. It was and still is THE proverbial melting pot, a beacon calling in people of all patterns: stripes, spots, solids, Pollock-esque splatters. It was uniquely welcoming. Once you’d been asked for spare change by a homeless person, you were IN.
See, California’s incredibly diverse, yeah? But it’s also enormous, the size of a small country or thereabouts, and the thing about ethnic groups is that they like to stick together. A lot. Case in point: my high school was approximately 70% Asian. Like dark chocolate, except far less exceptional. (Well, technically, we were exceptional, but in that highest-SAT-scores-in-the-nation-blah-blah-bland-yawn kind of way.)
The reason I’m mentioning this is because it relates to my first experience eating Indian food, which coincided with the first month of being off to college. My friend picked out the restaurant, a mere five minute walk away from the dorms, on Telegraph Avenue.
For the uninitiated, Telegraph Avenue, even only a decade back (I swear I’m not as old as I sound!), was a veritable bazaar of hole-in-the-wall. It had this timeless quality to it: an ancient Rexall’s featured prominently across the street from campus, tourist shops still capitalizing off of Berkeley’s 60′s heyday (free speech anyone?), smoke dens, forgettable sports bars, and establishments like Blondie’s (pizza), Amoeba (records), and Moe’s (books!). Everything was a little scrummy, a little unsavory; you’d catch the occasional whiff of psychedelic substances all along its way. It was what I loved so much about Berkeley actually, the unpolished, the imperfect.
And the Indian restaurant was no exception. Not fine dining by any stretch of the word, the memory of that meal is still tinged with the rose-tinted gloss of Life-Changing Dining Experience. Why so important? From my vantage point now, the food would probably have been deemed mediocre at best.
Because there I was, still green around the collar, fresh out of the nest—a nest, mind you, where I’d dutifully eaten Chinese food nearly every single day of my life (rounded out with mostly fast food)—trying to make sense of a menu full of aloo this’s and vindaloo that’s. It was exhilarating.
Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing many echelons of south Asian food. But it all started with that meal. In the heart of Berkeley.
I actually didn’t try mango lassi until a few meals later, but it was a bit of an “oh my god, what the F is this?!” experience in its own right. Not life-altering, but a smaller explosion. I don’t order it very often, but it’s a treat I try not to deprive myself of too often.
This blood orange cinnamon lassi is probably the best alternative I’ve ever tried to its more popular counterpart (although this sounds, well, absolutely stunning actually). It’s sexier, if you can imagine a sexy yogurt beverage. It’s understated. Mere suggestion, fathomless depths. I like it a lot, and I think the cinnamon and orange play very nicely off each other, a seamless union. But, just like Berkeley, you’ll have to try it for yourself to see what I mean.
BLOOD ORANGE CINNAMON LASSI
Makes 1 serving
Adapted from Martha Stewart
- 1 blood orange
- 1 cup plain yogurt
- 1 Tbsp honey
- pinch cinnamon
Peel blood oranges and separate segments from membranes, dropping segments in a blender (or cup, if using immersion blender). Blend with the rest of the ingredients and pour contents in a cup. Feel free to garnish with more cinnamon if desired. I am doing a public service by not enabling any breaking of weight loss resolutions (don’t want that on my shoulders!), so ENJOY!