It was originally going to be a celebration of the joys of lamb at Dila’s, San Miguel’s Sri Lankan restaurant. Chef/owner Dilshan Madawala and I were going out to do what I told my macho guy friends was “some serious wild game hunting”. In reality, it was trucking out to a farm near Celaya, pointing at a lamb in a field and, after the slaughter, butchering it and watching Dilashan turn it into four extraordinary Sri Lankan dishes.
I had fifteen couples on my guest list. I had chosen four wines to accompany our feast. The best little rock ‘n’ roll band in the middle of Mexico, the Mavericks, were scheduled to get us off our lamb-stuffed asses and make it nigh on impossible not to dance the night away.
And then my selfish, food-obsessed world stopped spinning. What had been some not-to-worry-about, never-ever-heard-of disease in some couldn’t-even-pronounce Chinese city was now crawling through Iran and cropping up in Italy and Spain.
The dinner began as a very casual chat I had with Dila. I was mourning the lack of lamb in San Miguel de Allende. I was one-hand counting the days when I would be boarding a plane to my fair-weather home in Toronto and gripping a lamb loin lollipop firmly in my right hand. In Toronto, I eat lamb at least once a week. In Toronto, I might eat more lamb than chicken. In Mexico, apart from the barbacoa I enjoy at taquerias, I eat lamb next to never.
It was late February when I asked Dila if he could make the mostly ignored meat in Mexico the star of a Friday night dinner. I knew, of course, what his answer would be. The date was set. The dinner was scheduled for March 20.
As I write this, the date is March 20.
On March 15, the Sunday before, we officially cancelled the Celebration of Lamb dinner. I had told Dila that Don Day’s Wife and I would still be there on the 20th. But even that changed.
Earlier this evening I walked up to Dila’s alone. I went to pick up our dinner. Don Day’s Wife and I would be eating at home. There would be just the two of us.
There was one person in the dining room when I arrived. It was Dilshan Madawala.
The almost ever-present cheeky grin was still on Dila’s face but he had lost the usual spring in his step as he shuffled over to greet me and exchange the Covid 19 elbow bump.
“This is crazy”, said Dila. “This is what happens in history books. This isn’t what happens in real life.”
“So what are you going to do?”, I asked him.
“Survive, is about the only word I can come up with…but I’m not sure how long I can survive,” Dila replied. “Pick-up and delivery is about all I have left. I have to do the best I can with that and hang in there. Hopefully it won’t last as long as people are saying.”
“And who’s doing your deliveries?”, I inquired.
“Me”, said Dila. “There’s not a lot for me to do in the restaurant.”
We talked a little about the sudden popularity of Uber Eats.
“They wanted 5,000 pesos to get on their platform”, said Dila. “I thought they were crazy. Now I might be begging to get on the site.”
Dilshan handed me my takeout and, as I walked back down the eerily quiet Salida a Queretaro, I looked up at the sky. Venus seemed brighter than ever. I hoped it was shining on Dila’s.
The lamb was as tender and tasty as ever. There were lots of the iddledy bits, the neck and the breast that if, like me, you don’t mind a little combat with some bones, are the best parts of the beast. The masala had those extraordinary complex combinations of flavors that have been the cornerstone of Dilshan Madawala’s business.
We would be going back to Toronto in three days. Our daughter-in-law has already stocked the fridge with a couple of lamb racks and some North African spiced lamb sausages. I wouldn’t be able to help Dila’s survive. Except by suggesting that you pick up or have delivered the superb Sri Lankan dishes that I’ll be missing. And hoping they’ll still be there when I return this summer.
Dila’s Restaurant is located at Salida a Real de Querétaro 187 in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. You’ll find their menu at http://www.dilas.com.mx/english_menu.pdf. The restaurant is open from Noon to 9:00 pm every day but Sunday. For pick-up or delivery, telephone 415 154 1212.