The Battle of the Indian Aunties

The renovation of a tired Singapore highrise has ended the battle of the Indian aunties, a dispute created out of thin air that’s provided hours of entertainment for me and one of my colleagues.

The combatants were the two teams of Indian aunties with food stalls on either end of the food court in a shopping block near my office. My colleague, A, prefers one stall, I prefer the other. A thinks my aunties are rude. I think her aunties are too pushy. A thinks her aunties are better cooks. I think mine are. And so it went… friendly banter to help while away the dreary work hours.

Because of the strange and regimented nature of my job, I can’t choose the time of my lunch break. And my lunch break rarely coincides with A’s. So we have our own separate lonely lunches, then spend the afternoon comparing notes.

I hadn’t been to the food court for a while, waylaid by holidays and an ambition to lose a bit of weight. But when I’m on the late shift, with a lunch break from 3pm to 4pm, not many food places are open. So as the week trailed to a close, I decided to head to my favourite Indian auntie for my regular vegetarian rice set. (I suprised them once by ordering non-veg when I just couldn’t resist a creamy chicken dish).

The sari-clad aunties usually hail me with a friendly greeting, comment on the lateness of the hour and then, as they dump rice onto a thali tray, ask if I want the veg rice set. The S$5 rice set is my favourite. It comes with mound of rice, two pappadoms and a serve of dahl. There’s three extra sections of the thali tray for small portions of whatever vegetarian dishes the aunties have cooked that day.

I try to go for the non-spicy option but always seem to be ambushed by a few sneaky chillies hiding amongst the vegetables. On days when I’m really hungry I order the $7 naan set and am rewarded with two huge slabs of crispy flaky naan bread, fresh from the oven, as well as the four dishes.

But this week I got to office block that houses the food court to find shops shuttered, displays being dismantled and workmen trailing through the place like ants. On the fourth floor my aunties were stuffing old receipt books and wall decorations into a plastic shopping bag, while out the back someone clattered around stacking heavy metal objects.

“Hello,” the long-nosed grey-haired chief auntie said. “How are you? How is your baby? You will be our last customer.” She looks sad, even though she tells me she has another restaurant in the Far East Plaza. I don’t know where that is but it’s defnitely not within walking distance of my office.

And so I order my last Indian auntie meal. A bit of spicy brown goo with chickpeas, spicy yellow mush with beans, dahl and some spiced potatos. The uncle gives me a free dessert and a free cup of yoghurt drink. The dessert is orange, cinnamon flavoured and delicious. The drink much appreciated, to soothe the spicy burningness in my mouth.

As I scoop up the last scoop of dessert, an Indian collague wanders past. He was the last customer at the rival aunties’ stall. He says his aunties will move across the road, to a banana leaf restaurant area. He’s not so sad.

A supported the other aunties, the Punjabi aunties, because they served her lunch one day when she’d forgotten her purse, telling her she could pay the following day. She feels it would be disloyal to patronise another set of aunties, although she does admit that my aunties (well, the uncle actually) cooked a mean naan.

I prefer my friendly aunties, who had more flexible serving options. The other aunties only seemed to offer three combinations, all of which came with something fried. Both times I tried the other aunties, it was during the peak lunch hour, and the aunties had no patience for my hesitation and menu-confusion. Both times I ended up with a fried thing I didn’t want (but ate anyway).

My friendly aunties won me over, even before they started giving me free yoghurt drinks. I had the baby with me one lunch break  and suddenly they really were my aunties, asking after the baby and demanding when they’d see her again.

But now both sets of aunties, assisted by the uncles, have packed up their stainless steel thali trays, their forks and spoons and their paper napkins. (The only vendors in the whole food court who provided napkins.)

The battle is over, without any clear winner.

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9 years ago

By: Barbara

A career girl who dropped out, traveled, found love, and never got around to going home again. Now wrangling a cross-cultural relationship and two third culture kids.

4 Comments

  1. Gabriel Ang says:

    Indian food is great! I still don’t know the names for most of them though.

    Malay food is pretty good too. Mum and Dad used to buy Nasi Lemak from a stall in Golden Shoe Complex, along Market Street, near where they work. It was the best I have ever had.

  2. this is post is entertaining despite the fact that it’s a sad story. Nice one.

    now i want to go to the kopitiam in the interchange and buy some papadums.

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