Sunday, November 9, 2014

Family Dinner, New Restaurant, Old Memories


Several weeks ago, I read Alexandra Gill's very enthusiastic review of "a humble South Indian diner" that specializes in dosas, massive rice-lentil crepes filled with a variety of delectable spicy ingredients. I quickly organized a visit with one daughter, her partner, and their wee one, but somehow mis-remembered the name of the restaurant and ended up at a decent dosa place many hundred-blocks from the written-up diner, on the same Vancouver street. Good enough, and affordable and friendly (although sadly without a beer-and-wine license), we enjoyed Madras Dosa, but I decided to try once more to check out Corner Dosa.

Sometimes it's tough to gather the whole family on such short notice, but I sent out an email last Monday, and by Wednesday, we'd heard that all were coming, except our son, on business in New York City. Disappointing, but his father-in-law was visiting, and we were pleased to have him fill Z's seat -- especially since we will be co-grandparenting in just a few months. . .

The decor at Corner Dosa is modest, but the room is clean and bright, and the service is warm and welcoming. Our little ones were fussed over, and servers made their way around the stroller without complaints. At one point, my husband tried to order his Main before all the Appetizers had arrived, and our server insisted that we wait and see how hungry we really were. Similarly, when we did get to ordering our main dishes (the appetizers were a variety of samosa and pakoras, lightly battered chicken and shrimp, in a range that kept vegetarians and carnivores equally happy) and Paul tried adding a number of breads, the server pointed out which dishes would have accompanying breads already. We ordered beer from a small selection in the cooler, but certainly, no one was trying to increase the liquor part of our bill, and although we clearly hogged a considerable portion of the restaurant, there was no attempt to hurry us through the meal.
 I've mentioned before how much I love the chance to watch my kids and their partners interact with each other, and the way the little ones are developing rich relationships with their aunts and uncles -- as below, where it's clear that this little redhead is very comfortable with her Aunt B and Uncle A
Down at the other end of the table, two patriarchs renew acquaintance, a son-in-law relaxes contentedly, and two burgeoning-bellied young moms catch up.
 Little girls get silly
 the littler trying to keep up with the oh-so-sophisticated humour of her big cousin.

I probably should have snapped some photos of the wonderful food -- the dosas, especially, are photogenic, long, fat, golden crispy rolls, extending corpulently off the edges of their plates. Mine was filled with mixed vegetables and lamb -- the cubes of lamb were succulent but not at all fatty, prime cuts cooked to perfect tenderness. I watched my daughter's contentment with her lamb biryani (served with gravy, a South Indian difference, apparently), another daughter's partner equally happy with his goat biryani, the son-in-law sitting opposite me very pleased with a vegetarian dosa (featuring spinach and paneer, I think among other savoury ingredients). We'll definitely be back to try out more menu items.

As we drove away, and we remarked again how much further the restaurant is from the city core
than we'd expected (hence, perhaps, my error several weeks ago), I remembered the old bridge that used to cross the Fraser River, not too far from where this restaurant now sits. It was of wooden construction, with a swing span to accommodate tugs and barges passing underneath its relatively low height.  I'm fairly sure that I drove over it in a daily commute for two or three weeks back in 1971 or '72 for a summer job in a food-packing plant, a job that gave me a glimpse into the world of punching a card for start and end of work, for each carefully doled out coffee break, for lunch break.

A glimpse was all I needed, and I was grateful when another more congenial position came up elsewhere, but I'm surprised how clearly the muscle memory of tamping down the pancake mix inside its paper bag remains in my forearms, how my knuckles recall the folding down of the bag and the feeding it through the slightly terrifying industrial sewing machine that closed the powder safely into its container.

And I have a similar sense of the bumpiness of the ancient bridge's asphalt underneath my funny little English car's wheels, a foggy but insistent recollection of waiting impatiently for the span to swing back into position after a sluggish tug had towed its load underneath. My cursory research suggests that I might be remembering correctly, as it seems the bridge closed officially in late winter, 1974, with the opening of the Knight Street Bridge.
I'm cautious in my claims because I do notice occasionally now that events as long as forty years ago are sometimes susceptible to re-editing in my memory files. Further, there are fewer and fewer who might have had a firmer grip on the details of those times. I wish, yet again, that my dad was still around because he could corroborate or correct or enhance my memories. That wish, in turn, spurs me on to pass some of the details along, yet ever conscious that without context, my own children and grandchildren may not be particularly interested. Yet.

Ah well. We're making new memories with them, for them, aren't we?

Several years after I (putatively) drove the Fraser Street Bridge those few summer mornings, Paul and I, newlyweds, would make our budget stretch to an occasional restaurant meal. We wouldn't do this much more often than once or twice a month, and we usually found that the dollars went much further in the ethnic restaurants that were just beginning to make their way into the Vancouver landscape. At least, there has long been a tradition of Chinese restaurants here, and there were Japanese as well (although sushi was just beginning to nudge its way in then). But in the early 70s, we'd still have to drive into Vancouver from our suburban home for Greek food while the pyrogy restaurant in New Westminster was closer, a welcome novelty, somewhere we could eat heartily for fifteen to twenty dollars.

No one, at that time, was serving Indian food, not in all of British Columbia, I'd almost dare say, not in those decades before the trail-blazing Vij's. But now, we have a plethora of options in our much more cosmopolitan, multicultural city. We're squaring the circle, Paul and I, stretching the entertainment budget eating affordable ethnic food, and making family memories at the same time. I do wonder what the young 'uns will remember in 40 years and how those memories will blur. . . .

What about you? When/If you cast your mind back 40 years, are you quite confident in the solidity of your memories? Are you occasionally surprised when contradictions are exposed or discovered?
And on a different note, have you discovered the joys of the dosa? (If not, I highly recommend searching them out!)
If you were around Vancouver "back in the day," do you remember driving the Fraser Street Bridge? And if you weren't, do you find yourself challenged or surprised or simply observant of the way your city has changed over your lifetime.
Really, that's enough questions, isn't it? I'm ready for your answers . . . let's chat!

20 comments:

  1. Lovely post. So ordinary yet so rich. I have not tried Dosa but I will now. I love Indian food. My memories are fading. They are not so sharp and often I question myself about the reality. I also find sometimes events merge. It is one of the reasons I started my blog. To have a record. It does work, even now. It helps to be reminded. My writing for me does evoke a much richer memory. Never been to Vancouver but the more I read your blog the more I would like to experience your wonderful part of the world.

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    1. I do think that the blogging helps, not only because we can look back and check the record (and I did that just the other day, curious about dates of an event several years ago), but also because the very act of writing reinforces the memory. You'll have much to blog about when you get back from NY!

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  2. We lived near Sears in Burnaby and I commuted to UBC on 49th Street. It was a 45 minute commute each way no bridge to cross but serious traffic and we could not afford to eat out much in our student days All we could afford was MR. Mike's, Black Angus and once a year the restaurant on Top of.Queen Elizabeth Park for our anniversary...we go back to visit now and dine at Vij's and love the diversity of cuisine. Vancouver had a very special place in my heart. We took our family out for pizza last night to Pizzaria Prima Strada and had a great family experience...two wonderful grand children so well behaved and lots of cuddles made the evening memorable.
    It's just so wonderful that we can share good times with our kids.

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    1. You were a few years behind me doing that drive -- I drove from New West'r to UBC, and often took 49th! So many changes through that area, aren't there!
      A pizza night is another great way to take all the family out for dinner -- it IS wonderful to have these good times with the generations!

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  3. What a lovely memoir and Nola photos as a dessert! (I loved her little purse on the table.) We too frequented ethnic restaurants when our twins were small; one of my favourite memories is of our little boys riding the shoulders of the 6'5" owner of the local Jamaican jerk restaurant. Just the best kind of dinner out!

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    1. Ah, well spotted! She's been carrying that little purse the last few times I've seen her -- I suspect my daughter got tired of carrying all the requisite gear in her own bag, and Nola seems to feel quite grown-up with the remedy.
      I absolutely love that image of your little guys (who must themselves be over 6'2"??) riding on those shoulders --- that's the kind of evening I'm talking about!

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  4. THis is such a beautiful post. Not up to being detailed right now but your experience of family and the passage of time in one place is so gorgeous. Your have roots and you value them. How fortunate.

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  5. Past and present are so wonderfully mingled in this lovely post. Family events like this are treasures. Love the two mamas-to-be conversing together, and the little girls goofing around.
    My parents lived in Vancouver when I was born, but moved to the Interior when I was two. We made many trips to the Fraser Valley to visit relatives, with occasional excursions into the big city. My mother would become quite tense dealing with the traffic (whether she was driving or not). Several years ago, shortly after moving back to Canada, I drove into the city on my own and felt the same discomfort and tension. Then I recalled that I'd driven every day in Quito for many years, and Vancouver drivers couldn't possibly be worse (and they are not). So I relaxed.
    We now go to the city to visit our daughter and SIL in the west end (although they are moving next month) and I enjoy the variety of restaurants and the bustle of the city.

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    1. It's funny, the barriers we set up for ourselves, isn't it?! I scarcely think twice about driving in Vancouver, as I've done it since my teens, albeit with extended patches living away. But in a new city, I'm happy to let Paul drive, even though I know that once I made the effort I'd be fine. Good for you for relaxing into it (and major kudos for having driven in Quito!)

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  6. Memories of the 70s are very clear indeed and some pop back out of nowhere, for no particular reason. For instance I was suddenly assailed with the memory of buying a pretty little jacket in 1973 - not recalled for years. Perfumes too. Even now that they are no longer available I can recall Aqua Manda and its heavy dark bottle. Last week is practically a mystery though. Perhaps we are mentally clearing the filing systems as we get older. Interesting, all the same.

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    1. It's true, they do pop up out of nowhere, seemingly, and without warning, these memories. And with the kind of sensory detail, as in your Aqua Manda. . . .Cleaning the filing systems, pressing the delete button to make more room. . . . just hope I hang on to the names of my nears and dears!

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  7. The changing of the city is a constant surprise to me...it can take me ages to make an adjustment to my mental map. As a result, I often catch myself asking 'how long has THAT been there?' And the answer is often 'five years' (or more, to be absolutely honest)!

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    1. Oh, I know! I try not to blurt these comments out in front of too many others, as the answer does sometimes show me up as not particularly observant! ;-)

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  8. My mother used to hate that bridge! It seems like a long time ago. After I was married in 1974, we loved to go to Hungarian Szasz on Granville and various Chinese restaurants. Then we moved to Coquitlam and I made the trek to UBC with daughter. It was definitely Mr. Mike's then as we seemed to be constantly in transit. I'm off the coast of South America right now but your post transported me to a different time. The little girls are lucky to enjoy these restaurant experiences as they will be far more accepting of different foods as they get older.

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    1. I'd forgotten about Szasz's -- I remember one lunch there, especially, with a girlfriend long since deceased. . . .
      Can't wait to hear about your travels -- that sounds like a fabulous trip!

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  9. After finishing school (back in 1970) I spent a few months in London, working for Amnesty International. They could not pay me but gave me lucheon vouchers, worth three shillings sixpence each, just enough to pay for a vegetable curry with plain rice and a glass of water in one of the Indian restaurants on Fleet Street. At the time, I found it quite exotic. But I must confess that my knowledge of Indian cuisine has not advanced much since then. Perhaps I should have a look around for Indian restaurants in my city.

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    1. London, a job with Amnesty International, curry lunches . . . right in the thick of '70s action. Must have been a bit heady, no?
      If you check out some of the Indian restaurants where you are, you'll have to report back . . .

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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