Spicy Tales

I didn’t eat a curry until I was twenty years old. In the seventies I was a student in London in my second year and dating a worldly London lad. He must have been thrilled to be able to initiate such an ignorant country bumpkin into the mysteries of the curry house. Until that moment I’d experienced a staunchly conservative, narrow, healthy but unadventurous diet of meat and two veg-roast on Sunday, cold roast meat on Monday, liver and onions on Tuesday, meat pie on Wednesday…readers of my generation will be familiar with this regime. Pasta was cautiously sampled when Heinz came up with spaghetti in a tin and rice was a [admittedly delicious] concoction known as rice pudding made with milk and sugar in a large tin in the oven, where a delectable toffee-like skin would form over the top. This was fought over at our table, with everyone wanting to scrape the brown residue from the sides of the baking dish.
The induction took place at a restaurant in Tooting called The Star of India; a small, warm space lined with red flock wallpaper and smelling of that [now] unmistakeable, saliva-inducing spicy aroma. I have no recollection of what I ordered-or indeed if I ordered at all, given my ignorance. The BF, in his superior position as experienced curry devotee selected something appropriate for one with my raw, untutored palate before choosing his own meal. He tended to choose the vindaloo options and was a fan of ‘Bombay Duck’-a weird, dried fish starter that smells powerfully of glue and which I have never taken to.
Now of course, curry has become mainstream along with Chinese, Italian, Mexican, Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, Middle Eastern and everywhere else cuisine.
Cosmopolitan restaurants are no less enjoyable for being different from eateries in their mother countries, though they are different, perhaps as a result of evolution. I’ve no doubt that Italians are appalled by the many establishments that call themselves pizza makers, although judging by their popularity and universal abundance their distaste would not be shared by the world at large. Husband opted for one at a beach café in South West France much frequented by German tourists and was presented with a gargantuan circular mountain consisting of every pizza ingredient known to man. He made a noble attempt to conquer this massif but failed before reaching halfway.
Many years after this first curry I tasted as a twenty year old I was to travel to India for a thrilling taste of that country itself, with the inevitable gastronomic tour that such a holiday entails. It was a revelation to discover that authentic Indian food was as unlike that of the Tooting curry house, or any other UK Indian restaurant, as Heinz Spaghetti Hoops is from Spaghetti alla Bolognese. To travel around the country to different areas was to experience a wide range of cuisines. Generally the further south we went, the hotter the spices; farther north, towards the mountains the food became less spicy.
My last visit to an Indian restaurant, last week, was to ‘Masala’, one of two curry houses in Perranporth, Cornwall, where I enjoyed a prawn saag with cauliflower bajii and pilau rice and I can honestly say it was delicious!

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