A diverse experience at Café Nashta in Mercedes

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Café Nashta in Mercedes serves Pakistani and Indian food like this shrimp biryani. (Travis M. Whitehead | Valley Morning Star)

MERCEDES — The plate with the shrimp and the rice and a passionate mix of cardamom and coriander and masala entices me into a sweet dream of memories.

At a long table stretching through the dining room of Café Nashta at 7013 E. Expressway 83, a group of Easter customers order breakfast burritos and carne guisada and Indian nan, a sort of flat bread.

I like this contrasting and then mixing of such diverse cultures. Such novel pairing create a textured and intriguing experience which ignite my curiosity with the newness and the freshness of it all.

What directs more fully my attention, though, is the listing of fabulous dishes and entrees and appetizers from that far away place called India and Pakistan. This part of the world has held a historical interest for me since my college days.

My dear friend Suma from Bangalore made delicious Indian food and I remember her use of cardamom which seemed to create an aroma fine and enticing and a flavor which I truly enjoyed. She introduced me to ghazals, a form of poetry, and taught me a few words in Hindi and even how to write in that language.

I remember some associations with whom I wrote science articles for the paper. They were from Kerala and Karnataka in South India and we also did stories about the culture and they made fabulous foods, and there was a young girl who performed the Bharatanatyam, a complex Indian dance.

These things and so much more awaken in my memory and in my senses as I sit here at Café Nashta and look with endearment and fascination at the shrimp biryani before me with the cardamom which always reminds me of Suma and the cassia and the fish masala which is basically a curry made of spices from that grand place called India.

I had many choices from which to choose. In cases like these I often say I feel like a mosquito in a nudist colony, surrounded by so many choices it becomes confusing and the fly cannot make a choice.

In like manner I can’t decide at first whether I want shami kabob, karahi, haleem or nihari. I know I don’t want the chicken quesadillas or the tortilla soup or the nachos as I have come to taste Indian for the first time in many years. Again, though, I am intrigued by this playful pairing of cultures and the foods of those cultures.

After some anxious moments of indecision and confusion like the mosquito I finely choose the shrimp biryani. The waitress, a Pakistani woman who appears to own the café along with her husband, takes my order and explains there may be a wait time longer than usual. The long table crowded with the Easter customers, more than ten which children and parents, has brought with it a very large order and the staff is scrambling to keep up.

This is all fine with me because, as many of you know, I seek the slow and the reflective. The speeding and the rushing and the accelerating of modern life robs us of the experiences and the nuances and the passions of life. In the quick and the fast we run past the sweetness of life’s moments, the water drops and the leaves rustling and the aromas of carne guisada and breakfast burritos and Indian pakora and channa chat.

And the flavors. We charge through our Big Macs and our pizzas and our chicken fingers, fast food that is part of our fast and depleted lives, barely remembering the taste of our burgers and pizzas and chicken fingers.

Quality takes time. In the rural places of Michoacan the Purepechas make what they call slow food —corundas made from corn gathered from a field and shucked by hand. In Trinidad they spend hours making peleau and curry chicken.

And at Nashta Café I get to wait a little while and absorb the flavors and the reflections and the actions of a fine eating place. Here I can remember with fine reflection my dear friend Suma from Bangalore and the scientists from South India and the girl performing the Bharatanatyam.

Now as the dish arrives I can absorb long and reflective the joy of shrimp biryani and the rice and the cardamom and the coriander and fenugreek and all things fabulous and beautiful in the world.