Culture shock is a strange thing. When I came to the UK in 1980, there were many things I had to get used to, and many things I got wrong; I’ve shared some of my thoughts with you over the years. But not this one.
You know, the scariest thing I had to overcome, in the context of culture shock, was this: getting used to Western cuisine. No, not what you think. Calcutta is a pretty cosmopolitan city, I’d been used to western cuisine.
What I hadn’t been prepared for was the way people here cooked Indian cuisine. That hurt. It really hurt. In the early years, everywhere I went, people were hospitable to me. Extremely hospitable. So much so that everyone tried to provide me with “Indian” food. And it was expected that I ate it.
It’s kinda hard to describe the feeling I had, when I went into a pub with friends, and it was time to order food. I was expected to order the “curry” on the menu. Which meant saying a little prayer and then manfully working through meat with apples and raisins, with a bit of stale curry powder thrown in, and if you were lucky, a large dollop of turmeric for colouring (which had the salutary effect of killing all other tastes for a short while).
Those were the days. We hadn’t really learnt about curry here at that time. [Actually the same could be said about wine. Those were the days indeed, when Black Tower and Blue Nun and screw-top warm Lambrusco were readily available, when French wine was conspicious in its absence, and the New World had not yet arrived. I remember a particularly bilious Bulgarian Laski Riesling that would have worked well as a paintstripper…]
Then the Invasion from Sylhet arrived, and we moved to Curry Awareness Phase Two. Now, when I went with friends to an “Indian” restaurant, I had to explain to them that for me, it was like being invited to a European restaurant. How would you feel if you went to a restaurant that served smorgasbord, paella, gnocchi, chateaubriand and wiener schnitzel? What would you think?
I had to explain to them that the Indian restaurant was actually Bangladeshi, and that the chefs had created an “Indian” set of dishes suitable for the western palate. That the vindaloo tasted nothing like the vindaloo I’d had in Goa, that vindaloo itself had nothing to do with degree of hotness. That chicken kashmir and meat madras were dreamt up by people who could not point to Kashmir or Madras on a map.
But at least the cuisine was edible, and I started enjoying myself at Indian restaurants.
Now? Now life is fantastic. I can eat good Indian food anytime I want, there are good North Indian restaurants, good South Indian vegetarian restaurants, good Bengali fare, even good Nepali fare.
And during this time, this strange beast called the Chicken Tikka Masala has become, and now stayed, Top of the Pops.
Which makes this video of how to make it interesting to watch. Actually it’s an excuse for showing the video. I haven’t tried the recipe, I have no idea how good it is, but I do like the way they present it.
Talking about recipes, here is one that I do want to try. CY Gopinath on jhal moori. I’ve met CY many years ago, he probably doesn’t remember. But the jhal moori he describes is the jhal moori I remember, so I intend to try and make it.