Who’s murdered my curry?

Peter the Roadie

I’ve just been reading, with some amusement, that flock wallpaper is all the rage again. Well, I say again, it never really was before, not in people’s homes.  The only place you’d find it would be on the walls of Indian restaurants. In fact, in the 70s every Indian restaurant you went to had its walls covered with the stuff. It was tacky but tactile; it was like running your fingertips over a garish colonial version of Fuzzy Felts.

In those days I enjoyed eating curry so much I reckon I could have lived on the stuff. I could have eaten it three times a day. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve eaten leftover curry from the night before cold for breakfast. It always tasted even better cold the following morning, especially if you’d had a skinful the night before.

Going out for an Indian used to be a regular ritual, an old girlfriend and I had a favourite haunt in Shepherd’s Bush where we’d go to late every Friday night. If I was hungry when I arrived, after five minutes of spicy aromas wafting from the kitchen I’d be positively salivating. I’d demolish my share of the poppadoms and pickles, then wade into hers, only to be warned off with an icy glare. Then I‘d have an onion bhaji, a deep-fried tennis ball of matted onion strips and garam flour, dipping it in minty yoghurt. By which time I’d be ready for my chicken madras or vindaloo. There was a real machismo at the time about how hot you could take your curry, ordering a khorma was considered less than manly. But squaring up to a vindaloo, or even better the notorious phall, was the culinary equivalent of having an extremely hairy chest.

I first got into curries when I was, amongst other things, a roadie. This was in the days before chicken tikka masala had been invented for the British curry lover. After a gig we’d load all the gear into the truck and then go looking for somewhere to eat.  A man can work up quite an appetite after an evening spent eyeing up girls and quaffing backstage lagers. And the only establishments who were pleased to see a gang of oiks with shoulder length hair and flares walk in through their door at one in the morning were Indian restaurants. I loved those old school curries – rogan josh, chicken madras, meat bhoona and one of my favourites, egg curry; hard boiled eggs swimming in a pool of thick brown gravy. Chicken curry was usually cooked on the bone and because of that was always full of flavour. With rogan josh the taste of the spices went deep into the chunks of meat. You had to wait longer for your meal because the food was cooked from scratch, but the wait was worth it. It tasted really good; dare I say it, much better than a lot of the Indian food on offer today.

A lot of Indian restaurants I’ve visited of late have been disappointing; the food just hasn’t had the ‘oomph’ I used to get from curries. But there is one I would go out of my way to visit, Ruby’s in Leyton. But more of that another time.

Thali - The real stuff

Thali - Now this is proper curry

Anyway, I’m not sure if this next story falls into the category of ‘Indian’ or ‘the weirdest place I’ve ever eaten’.  Some years ago a girlfriend (different one) and I had this spontaneous idea to go camping. Just like that. We thought the West Country sounded like a great place to camp for the weekend so we pointed the car westwards. We didn’t actually own a tent so we stopped at a camping shop along the way and bought one. The man in the shop said that even complete novices like us could erect it in ten minutes. Brilliant. We reached Cornwall, and as we were starting to run out of land we decided to stop. We found a lovely little campsite, it was high up and overlooking the sea, it was idyllic. We got our brand new tent out of its protective bag and tried to figure out which pole went where. After a few false starts, and a bit of cursing, we had the thing erected in just over an hour and a half.

Later that evening we wandered down into the town, a typical seaside resort, looking for dinner. Predictably, nearly every establishment we passed was a fish and chip shop. But being city slickers, and it being a Friday night, we both felt like murdering a curry. At that time the penetration of Indian restaurants into the West Country was pretty low, you rarely found them, but as we turned the corner, there it was, we could hardly believe our luck.

We knew something was amiss as soon as we walked in. No flock wallpaper. No sitar renditions of ‘Born Free’ and ‘Yesterday’. The place was laid out like a tea shop. Oh, and no Indian waiters either. Instead, a beaming middle-aged English lady brought us a menu and took our order. When she eventually brought our food to the table she proudly told us that her middle-aged English husband was the chef, what with him being a bit of a dab hand in the kitchen and being partial to a curry himself. We looked down at our plates trying to stifle our giggles. Do you remember Vesta dehydrated curry?  When you emptied it out of the packet it looked like sawdust flecked with dried peas, and when ‘cooked’ it tasted (vaguely) like stew. Stew with sultanas in it. Well, the food sitting on our plates looked and tasted a lot like that.

No need to go out for a curry, here are a couple of recipes from Madhur Jaffrey, who’s allegedly responsible for introducing James Ivory and Ismail Merchant. Remember that, might come in handy at the pub quiz.

Lamb in a fennel-flavoured coconut sauce

Spicy, pan-fried fish steaks Chettinad

Going out for an Indian used to be a regular ritual, an old girlfriend and I had a favourite haunt in Shepherd’s Bush that we’d go to late every Friday night.

Comments

  1. http://yvonne says

    how did you do it? its 8.00am and i’m simply craving a vegetable biryani; the one i first tasted in south norwood circa 1966 accompanied by poppadoms, chapati and lots of beer..
    and whatever happened to coronation chicken? with added sultanas..horrible!

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