Those who know me well know that, when it comes to food, I’m a man of simple tastes. Pasta is most delicious with smooth tomato marinara and olive oil. Loaded fries, for me, shall not be more than fried potatoes with a generous helping of Heinz catsup. Any pizza that deviates from the Neapolitan margherita ideal (mozzarella and red sauce) is a form of blasphemy.

But there’s another meal that captivates me. It is a remarkable dish that sends me into a daze. When this food enters my sights, my heart races with excitement and anticipation. It’s a simple meal, consisting of two separate components each with only one significant ingredient, but its a meal that restores me from a wretched, starved beast, to a glowing man again, enlightened and invigorated.

This magical meal is daal chawal, served exclusively at Aunty’s Kitchen. It is lentil soup with a side of rice.

The daal (lentil soup) is a golden elixir that explodes with taste – hot spice, garlic, cumin, and transcendent flavours whose secrets will taunt me for as long as I live. The daal is a sublime potion; it is both highly satisfying, with an optimal viscosity that provides heft and body; and obscenely comforting, as a warm substance which coats the esophagus like a vacuum seal that traps in pure delight. This daal lifts me into a state of serene ecstasy.

The rice is infused with hints of flavour arising from cumin, cloves, peppercorn, a touch of ginger, the nuttiness of basmati, and again the unachievable je ne sais quoi that makes this rice both irreplaceable and irreplicable. The rice achieves an elegant consistency: sturdy grains which are never so soft as to dissolve, and oh-so subtly oiled, which lets clumps of rice stick together naturally, forming loose structures that soaks up the daal perfectly. The rice is a multi-sensory experience: beyond its flavours and texture, its individual grains sample from a gradient of colour ranging from light cream to a vibrant orange.

Whenever I’ve finished eating a plate of Aunty’s daal chawal, I’m miserable that the experience is over. But each time I complete the meal I’m sated: my appetite has been fully attended to. And even though the value I extract from this dish is virtually priceless, the cost of this perfect meal is just around $6.50 CAD.

daal chawal
Daal chawal, taken July 14, 2014. I apologize that this image is blurry: the likely explanation is that I was so stunned at the time that my skills in camerawork escaped me. This very photograph marks possibly the first time I consumed this life-changing meal. The next recorded daal occurred was 8 days after this was taken — after that, the next one was the day following.

I’m known amongst the virtuous apprentices who staff Aunty’s Kitchen as “that guy who gets daal all the time”, and that’s a badge I wear with honour. I anticipate continuing my highly regular patronage of Aunty’s for as long as I reside in Kitchener-Waterloo, and if I ever move away, it might be the (inanimate) thing I miss most.

But dear Aunty’s Kitchen, I plead one thing of you. You and your noble staff have outdone yourself when it comes to this daal. But I’m convinced your chefs possess a Midas touch – I beg you to expand your vegetarian offerings! I’ve already seen what you can do with a chana masala, and my God, it is beautiful. Why must you limit it to a Thursday special?! And yes, I know you serve shahi paneer, but I’m trying to avoid cheese, I apologize!

Oh, what am I saying – I could never stay mad at you, Aunty’s Kitchen. For as long as we’ve been together, you’ve never let me down (save once, when you were out of daal, and I forgave you the next day). But humour me, perhaps with a nice aloo gobi, or by resurrecting the vegetable biryani, and make this old fool the happiest guy on earth.

Yours always,

George Lifchits