"Ek starter mangaa lete hain, soup lega kya (kaun sa sweet corn ya tomato?) - what they don't have sweet corn soup? What the fug man. Accha Manchow soup hai kya? Starter mein paneer bolna hai kya? phir mein course mein kya lenge? theek hai hara bhara kabab bol de. ya platter bolein?...masala papad anyone??"
"mere liye ek fresh lime salted bolna."
"main course bhi soch lo yaar. pata nahin kitna time lagayega. paneer handi? nahin yaar handi sweet hoti hai..kadhai paneer bol de? pehle pooch le gravy aayegi ki dry. How about Paneer do pyaza? abey PDP mat mangaana..mostly pyaza do paneer hi hota hai usmein (joke + laughter with at least two people who say - good one). Dal Kaun si lega Black ya Yellow? Dal Tadka bol dete hain. Raita lega kya - Boondi ya Pineapple? Roti kaun si lega? mere liye ek garlic nan bolna. Ek misi roti bhi bol diyo. Butter roti order kariyo aur waiter ko bolo ki roti repeat kar de. Rice baad mein order karenge. Agar sabji kam padi to ek dal aur mangaa lenge."
And that is pretty much is that. All this conversation happens in the space of a few minutes. There might be a few digressions driven by prices on the menu, an interestingly named item like Veg Atrangi (a motley medley of exotic Indian spices and vegetables in mild tomato curry sauce) or the very vague Paneer International (a global touch to an age old Indian speciality)
And there you have it. Everyday millions of groups of Indian men order paneer and assorted items with very little standard deviation in terms of the mix. Of course there are other "cuisines". "Aaj Chinese khane ka mann hai, aaj Pizza khane ka maan hai" types but largely Paneer holds sway. And there will always be someone who will order Chana Masala as if his life depended on it.
But my biggest grouse with restaurant menus is the fact that most items on them are not even for real. Are you trying to tell me that there is actually something call Veg Rajasthani or for that matter Paneer Lababdar? And what exactly, pray, is the difference between Paneer Handi, Paneer Kadhai and Paneer Tawa? And don't even get me started on Jalfrezis and Makhanwalas. And what of the legendary Diwani Handi? Its a frickin' sham I tell you made up of cottage cheese, vegetables of doubtful provenance and delectable tomato gravies, all designed to keep us from eating real food. Leave all that improvising to the French I say. I mean has your mom ever cooked Veg Panchmukhi at home?
Things of course change when a woman enters our lives. But that discussion is for another day. Right now I have a date with Dal Akbari...