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Dehli, September 25

The complementary breakfast at the YWCA International Guest House, Delhi is a unique culinary and cultural experience, though probably by happenstance, and not by design.

Officially, it runs from 7 to 10, but apparently they aren’t very strict about it. Yesterday, we came in at about 10.30 after doing a little exploring and shopping. The receptionist hailed us, “Have you eaten breakfast?”

“No,” we replied.

“Well, why not? It is complimentary.”

Before we could protest that, according to the clock behind her desk, breakfast was supposed to be over, she had written us two tickets, and pointed us through a door to the right.

Sarah sips her tea at breakfast
Sarah sips her tea at breakfast

In the breakfast room there are three or four employees who are all very friendly. I don’t exactly understand why it takes three or four employees to run what is, essentially, a continental breakfast, but I am prepared to accept it as just one of those “cultural things.”

Two or three guys in grungy smocks stand by the door to the kitchen with their arms folded in front of them. The other guy paces through the dining area, and occasionally tells one of the guys standing near the kitchen what to do. This would make sense if the dining area were perpetually filled with hungry guests, but Sarah and I have only ever seen one other couple eating the complimentary breakfast.

The fare consists of dry cereal, sketchy looking bananas, toast, warm boiled eggs, and a starch, which yesterday was baked beans, and today was a vegetable cutlet. For those who do not like toast, they have kindly made available cucumber sandwiches. Coffee and tea is also available.

The servers (who I suppose have to be particular about something) are very particular about who uses the toaster. Yesterday Sarah tried to put her own toast in the toaster, and the host practically made a full out flying Bollywood leap to stop her. “I will serve your toast,” he said. “How much would you like? Four for you, and four for him?”

Sarah is on a personal mission to use the toaster before we leave. We’re working on a plan. Maybe if I spill a plate of food, and then ask the host for details about the starch dish of the day, Sarah will be able to outflank the last employee, who will invariably remain standing by the door to the kitchen with his arms folded.

Despite the toaster battle, we do enjoy the service. We’re not used to being waited on hand and foot, but it’s kind of nice. This morning as we ate breakfast, I thought to myself, “Gee, it would be nice to have a napkin,” and sure enough, before I could articulate my desire, a neon yellow napkin holder appeared on the table in front of me. (Although the material of the napkins was more like plastic than paper.)

As I attacked my tear-drop shape vegetable cutlet (which seemed to me a cross between a pekora and a hashbrown patty) I thought, “Ketchup might go well with this.” Sure enough, a server came up to our table, and asked if we wanted any sauce, and ketchup in particular. “Absolutely,” I said, and a few moments later, he returned with a saucer containing two packets of ketchup from an Indian KFC.

At any rate, after just two days, I think we’re getting the hang of this breakfast thing. A couple more tries, and we’ll be old pros at the continental breakfast, Delhi-style. And, as they say: today, breakfast—tomorrow, the world. Or maybe even lunch.

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