Thursday, 11 February 2010

In praise of curry

I was about 15 when I ate my first curry. My mother ordered – it was her first time too in an Indian restaurant. So she insisted on “playing safe” with a boiled egg curry complete with a watery, tangy sauce, which contained raisins and stained everything it touched a dirty yellow. From such an inauspicious introduction began a life-long love affair.
A few years later and curry was the meal of student celebration. Then it was heat – the fiery vindaloo, which scorched my primitive palate.
At 65, curry remains my favourite meal. Like sex, when it’s good it’s excellent and when it’s bad it’s still OK.
I’m a failed wine buff. There was a time when I tried to get to know my wines. But it wasn’t worth the effort. I think I can recognise a good wine on the occasions I’m offered it. But if I’m buying for myself it’s got to be red, less than £8 a bottle, and 13 per cent or more.
Fortunately I never made the mistake in trying to get too clever about my curries. The distinctions on the Indian subcontinent itself matter desperately but when I enter a restaurant it’s food and not geography on my mind.
Indeed the times I have eaten in posh Indian/fusion restaurants where regional variations are trumpeted the food has usually been disappointing and portions always minuscule.
So let’s start with some papadums – both spicy and plain – washed down by Cobra Beer. Then some chicken tikka as a starter. To follow it has to be saag gosht (lamb cooked in spinach), chicken jalfrezi (taste those chillies), and a king prawn dish (they’re all good.)
Vegetables? Of course. Bhindee bhajee (okra), aloo gobi bhajee (potato and cauliflower) and some daal (pureed lentils). Pilau rice and naan (leavened flat bread) and the order’s complete.
Too much? Over-ordered? Not so. The essential ingredient in any curry - in a restaurant or at home, be it brilliant or indifferent – is good company with which to share the food.

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