Currying Favour

At Demi Tass, Indian Feasts Are Reserved, and Pricey

Services | Nayeli Urquiza | September 2007

Being an indebted student reduces the palette of restaurants considerably. But one night, I decided to make an exception. When the organiser of the night-out told us the average cost would be about €20 a head, some simply took a pass. Others, like me, toughened up and decided to go for it. After all, the organiser said, it was "one of the best Indian restaurants in Vienna."

Demi Tass is in the 4th District, half way up Prinz Eugen Strasse toward Suedbahnhof. You can find it by the cute Hindu decoration out front, making it stand out from the gray facades of the nearby buildings.

It is cozy inside, with decorations here and there and a vase by the window, blurred into the incense holder on a side table. The dim light added spice to what I looked forward to as one of the best Indian meals of my life.

Our organiser had ordered a full meal and had chosen everything from the appetizer down to the dessert. To start, we had a vegetable Somoza decorated with a couple of other greens on the rim of the plate. But it was disappointing because there were hardly any vegetables inside. My appetite was growing, and the main courses came just in time to stop my stomach from growling.

One rectangular dish after the other landed in front of us: lamb and beef curry, chicken tika massala, jasmin rice, papadam and yogurt dressing to cool down the tingling in the tongue from all the spices.

I was starving and it tasted, well, almost like a curry. For me a good curry is not too greasy and the sauce is thick, and the blend of spices is simply mouthwatering, leaving a tingling trace in my mouth. All the elements where there, except for the last one. Perhaps the cook was afraid of cooking a very spicy curry, because people here are not used to it, and they might complain. Whatever the reason, it was disappointing.

Then, dessert was served: A coup of mango mousse with strawberries, kiwis and cherries for decoration. Unfortunately for me, I hate the taste of mango, so I had to pass.

Chatting over the table went fine, or better said, as usual. Sharing a meal is part of the process of socialisation: one goes for lunch with a new co-worker to get to know him or her a little better away from the stress of the office; a group of students go out for dinner to share time outside the classroom; a boy meets a girl and invites her to a fancy restaurant. Yes, it’s the setting that counts, the neutral territory that loosens up the barriers among strangers about to get into the saga of getting to know one another.

But it’s also the food, that central necessity which has acquired so many connotations in the process of individuals’ lives as well as society’s histories.  The serotonin level seemed to be at its highpoint: We were laughing and talking, enjoying each other, all that makes an evening memorable. For some reason, I remember thinking, laughing after eating a lot seems the best way to digest a meal.

The magic came to a full halt when we received the bill. It came to €40 apiece just for the food, no drinks included.

As much as the chatting-over-food session had made this small group of about 10 people be friends for a couple of hours, the money issue tore us apart. Some targeted their anger at the organiser, who had promised one price and delivered another. Others, like me, simply felt swindled. We couldn’t believe such an ordinary curry meal could cost so much. I would have appreciated knowing if there was even a single unique ingredient I might have missed.

When I walked out of Demi Tass, I noticed that its regular customers were pretty posh, people working at the nearby embassies; the Swiss charge d’affairs might pop in once in a while, or the French delegation, or even the Turkish ambassador. Still, they surely don’t go every day. So to me, the prices seemed unreasonable.

At the end, the main objectives were missed. We neither got the best curry in Vienna, nor upgraded our relationships from acquaintances to friends, as the group silently divided into those who were still talking to the organiser and those who felt betrayed and showed it.

The lesson of the evening: High prices are not always synonymous with quality.

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