The first time I had eaten lamb cheese had been in a Tel Aviv restaurant where our friends were all trying to help me order a completely vegetarian meal. After specifying what I didn’t eat, I left them to choose the dishes for me, albeit a little apprehensively. I was told that a particular dish contained lamb’s cheese and was highly recommended by the chef as being fully vegetarian. I love cheese and am also pretty adventurous when it comes to tasting something new, so I nodded happily.
But I hadn’t bargained for its strong flavour. As they all looked at me expectantly, I made a great show of enjoying it which I am sure was no less than an Oscar performance! Between large gulps of red wine, I somehow managed to finish it! Remembering that it was made from sheep milk – yes that woolly animal of Ba Ba Black Sheep fame didn’t help matters any!
I remember another such awkward moment dating back to my adolescence. Funny how some incidents, not to speak of tastes – remain etched in one’s memory decades later.
My father, a Central Government employee, had been posted to Jodhpur and since he wasn’t sure how long he would be there, I was left with my elder sister in Mumbai so that my school term was not disturbed. When the summer holidays came, I was off to Jodhpur – yes to the dry desert city during the hottest months of the year!
There were many places of tourist interest and we went to the Umaid Bhavan Palace, Mandore Gardens, Balsamand Lake and other places, but the most important landmark — the Mehrangarh Fort remained to be visited as father couldn’t find the time to take us. Man Singh, one of the staff in his office offered to take us. He lived inside the fort, his family having served the King’s family for generations. We took a tonga to the fort.
The fort was magnificent, not to speak of formidable. The climb looked and was arduous, but we were so excited that we didn’t mind it one bit even in the sweltering heat. Man Singh had an insider’s knowledge of the fort and also could go into many sections freely, being part of the fort staff’s family. After several hours of roaming and learning about the history of the fort, we were tired and thirsty.
He took us to his home, where we were offered chilled water from the clay pots kept on the window sills. His mother talked to us in Rajasthani and we replied in Hindi, with Man Singh acting as the interpreter. We were plied with the wonderful sweets of Rajasthan and a little while later his wife brought us tea.
I eagerly picked up the cup and took a large sip. My face must have changed visibly because my sister, having taken a sip herself, pinched me surreptitiously perhaps to prevent me from spitting it out. Even the generous flavoring of cardamom couldn’t mask the strong flavour of the milk. Man Singh was most apologetic, saying that he should have warned us about the camel milk and that we could leave the tea if we couldn’t drink it. We were after all his boss’ children and he wanted to make a good impression!
But we shook our heads and managed to gulp it all down valiantly so as to not offend our wonderful hosts. As we left, we each took a mava ki kachori, to try and remove the flavour from our tongues.
Suffice to say that I still can’t look at a camel without remembering the taste of the tea made from its milk!