A Nice Meal

Tinh Le
5 min readMay 26, 2023
Photo by Victoria Shes on Unsplash

We were all hungry after playing pickleball for several hours and settled on dinner at Zareen’s, an Indian restaurant in Redwood city. The restaurant sat in the middle of a wide, plaza-like street, similar to Valencia in San Francisco, except cleaner and nicer. Inside, it was well-lit and spacious. The clean white walls were decorated with hanging books and colorful prints.

I grabbed a couple menus and sat down to decide what to order. I asked Shoumik if he wanted to share food but then decided I would get something for myself. Eugene and Byron sat down and agreed to go family-style with Shoumik, who asked me again if I wanted to share with them. I changed my mind about ordering my own food and decided sharing would be more fun. Fuck it, I’ll be able to try more things.

“Well what are you guys getting?”

“Hmm not sure yet”

“Should we get a thali and an entree? I think the entree might be more meat”

“Yeah let’s get the entrees”

“Ok I don’t want the chicken tikka masala though”

“You don’t want that?”

“I don’t want that. I’d be down for the lamb”

“Ok! I’m down for the lamb. Let’s get that”

Shoumik’s eyes and voice brightened up. I liked Shoumik for his childlike excitement over food and other various things. He was probably the funniest friend in the group as well and seemed the least phased by the hardships life passed on all of us. You could count on him to draw levity out of a tense situation or make a joke even if it was bad.

We settled for a lamb, chicken, and beef curry along with a spinach and potato dish in addition to two naans and a side of rice. The food came fast and I quickly took a shitty picture before diving in. I scooped the bright yellow rice onto my plate and started on the Madras chicken. The chicken had a perfect, smoky char and went well with the orange, creamy sauce. I couldn’t help myself now and started eating like a barbarian, tilting the plate at an angle and shoving the rice and meat down like this was my last meal. And I wouldn’t have minded if it was.

I was starting to activate the positive feedback loop that takes place when I’m eating good food. It felt like the faster I ate, the more enjoyable it became, which only made me eat faster.

Oh my gosh, I heard in the background. I think it was Robin commenting on me eating but I wasn’t sure at this point. The food was too good. The only disappointment was the beef nihari which had a weird texture and flavor, but everything else hit. My favorite was the spinach and potato, which was rich and flavorful while not overpowering. The buttery spinach went down easy and you didn’t get tired of it.

Recently, most of my meals have been pretty dry and healthy. I had the diet of a geriatric patient that lost most of their teeth, and ate mostly oatmeal, bananas, and sardines. Now whenever I ate good food, it was memorable. I even thought this meal would become a core memory. I tried hard to store the sights, sounds, and tastes from tonight, and to tuck away the memory for later reminiscing. It would be possible, and likely, that I’d forget what was said and talked about that night, or even how the food tasted, but I think I’ll always remember how it felt.

Damn, what if I never ate here again so I could preserve the memory of tonight? That way, Zareen’s will always be the same.

As the food settled, I thought about the whole day, starting from lunch in San Francisco, to the pickleball courts in San Mateo, and now finally this fast-casual Indian restaurant. I was grateful for my friends and appreciated being included. I sometimes felt out of place in the group and wondered if any of them ever thought the same thing, but I think we’re all on the same page.

“So should we get more food?”

“I’m down”

“What should we get?”

“Should we get two things?”

“I’m definitely down for this spinach dish”

“Ok what about the chicken?”

We debated for a while but there wasn’t enough collective initiative to order more food, and some of us even said we might be good. Byron stood up after a bit and took charge, cutting ahead of two groups in line that were still deciding what to order.

“Wow I’ve never seen Byron so confident”

In the end, we ordered another spinach and naan, and combined Robin’s chicken leftovers with some remaining sauce we had left. One last trip to flavor town and we were satisfied.

We discussed more hypothetical “would you rather” questions for a bit longer. The conversation came around to Tiffany saying she would give up her sight before her sense of taste. This blew my mind and I really couldn’t understand her choice. You thought you knew someone and then they go say something like that.

I reminded myself everyone lives a unique experience and holds different values but still couldn’t wrap my head around that. I imagined giving up my sight so I could taste oatmeal and sardines every day and the thought of it made me want to die.

We walked around the local downtown to end the night, but some of us were still hungry so we went back for dessert. It was the third time Shoumik went up to the counter and the cashier laughed. “What do y’all want this time?” A lightness was in the air after celebrating Robin’s birthday and playing pickleball in the sun. When was the last time we were all together like this? “Just a mango lassi,” Shoumik said, after realizing he had been at the checkout counter for way too long. Byron bought some sweet pudding and we talked some more while eating our sweets.

At one point, Byron got diarrhea from the lassi and was taking some time in the bathroom so we debated more hypotheticals outside the restaurant. Robin decided to end the night with a good one.

“What if every time you nut, a NUT came out?”

Usually, you followed up and gave people another unpleasant choice, but Robin just left it at that, which made it even funnier. The question was too much for Josh and he had to walk away but the rest of us were dying. Byron walks out in the midst of the laughter and says “You guys know I can hear you from all the way over here right? Like everyone can hear you.”

The conversation is just unhinged at this point and I don’t care anymore.

“Ok, what if every time you nut, someone near you gets diarrhea?”

“Oh my gosh, that’s so guilt-inducing”

Robin, once again, came in and took us home.

“Oh oh oh, what if every time you nut, your MOM shits herself? And every time she shits, you nut?”

We just lose it at this point and had to walk away from the restaurant because it was getting too much now and people were still eating outside. It was a good way to end a nice meal.