“The spice must flow.”
-Frank Herbert, Dune
La Sani Restaurant is a Pakistani restaurant on Bissonnet just north of the intersection with US 59. They serve a lunch buffet, which I have tried four times. Each visit is a revelation.
One reason to go to La Sani is the unusual meats. Often the buffet includes goat curry. The intense curry spice goes well with the gamey taste of goat. Today, they had braised mutton. Mutton is often too tough and gamey. This mutton, though, had the tender texture of a long-cooked pot roast. It had some spice that complimented, rather than overpowered, the light, only slightly gamey taste of the meat.
But the real reason to go to La Sani is the spice. When I go there with my co-worker – let’s call him “Bob” – we like to guess at the spice in each dish. Some spices we can identify. Others remain a mystery. Today, my first bite came with a whole pod of cardamom. Usually, cardamom is reduced to powder. Sometimes, a restaurant will open the pod and serve whole the little “seeds” inside. La Sani is the only restaurant I know that serves the whole pod. When I bit into it, there was an explosion of exotic flavor.
Another dish (Chicken Karachi?) had a dash of raw ginger on top.
Trying to determine one spice, I ran into disaster. “What is that green thing?” Bob asked me about a small tubular ingredient in a stew of ground chick peas. I examined it carefully. “It looks like a small asparagus,” I said. Then I put it into my mouth. The initial taste was mild, and a little vegetal – much like an asparagus. I bit into it and rolled it all across my tongue to make sure. I began to think that the flavor was not quite asparagus, but maybe more like a mild green pepper or maybe more like a chili pepper. Then, after about 15 seconds, I realized it was a chili pepper, and it was not mild. A few minutes later, I was dying. I began to beat my hands on the table and stuff Nan in my mouth, hoping to find some way to end the pain.
Of course, the best way to end the pain is dessert. One dessert was fairly easy to figure out – rice pudding with ground pistachios and a spice, probably cardamom, on top. It soothed my mouth after the chili crisis.
Another dessert looked like golf-ball-sized fruit in a brown sauce. Bob asked the waiter, “What is this?” “Sweet balls,” said the waiter. “What kind of balls?” “They are balls with sugar sauce on top.” Either he could not explain, or would not explain, what these “balls” were made of. When I first bit into the “sweet balls,” I was expecting fruit. Instead, it was a very light fritter made of corn or chick peas or who knows what. The sauce on top was sweet, but Bob detected a flavor in it besides sugar. “Is that rose water?” he asked. “Maybe,” I said, “but it is lighter than rose water usually tastes.” Bob then wondered, “Perhaps orange blossom water?” Again, Bob asked the waiter. The waiter responded, “it is golden sugar." “What is golden sugar?” “It is like white sugar, but different. Tomorrow we have dessert with white sugar. Maybe you come back?"
Heck, I can’t even begin to identify most of the ingredients in this food. They may not translate into English. I just know that, whenver I go to La Sani, I leave the restaurant only $10 poorer, and every taste bud in my mouth feels completely alive.