Friday, 20 June 2014

'Indian Curry' does not exist.

Now, I don't want to worry anyone, but the above statement is completely and totally true.

There is no such thing as an Indian curry.  Surprised?  That's a reasonable response for someone who has had the very foundations of their takeaway food experience rocked to its very... erm... foundations.

But I hear you shout "No!, I went for a curry last Saturday! It was great! There were free popadums and a pickle tray! And we drank Cobra! I spent the whole of Sunday pooping rusty dishwater!"

And I reply, "No, you didn't, you might have gone for Indian food (Although I doubt it) but you didn't go for an Indian curry."

THIS is a curry

The curry tree (Murraya koenigii)

I bet that wasn't what you had was it? Unless you're an elephant, and I'm sure that you would have let me know by now if you were.

OK, of course I'm being fatuous, it's what I do.  Although you should all know by now that I'm a great fan of people using the right words to describe things (queue thousands of readers pointing out where I've used 'Affected' instead of 'Effected' or 'Breath' where I meant 'Breathe')

Let me take you on a little jaunt through time, all the way back to 1764.  The Honourable East India Company (Whom you may have heard of as the posh, British villains from 'Pirates of the Caribbean') had opened up trading routes with India and were making insanely huge profits by exporting spices and anything that was of any actual value back to the Motherland.  In turn, they used the profits from this to expand further into the country, and by expand I obviously mean wage war with the locals until they were sufficiently decimated that agents of the company could just wander in and claim their land out from under them as I've described before. Then they'd employ local labour to grow pepper and nutmeg and things, which they'd trade for cotton and swordblades and suchlike (One of these turned out to be a huge mistake... a huge, huge mistake... See if you can guess which one it was).

Oddly enough, after almost 100 years of this kind of behaviour, there was a 'mutiny' or 'rebellion' depending whose side you were on, followed by a couple of massacres (Because we Brits do enjoy a good old massacre don't we?) and then Queen Victoria stepped in, dissolved the E.I. Company and kindly made India part of the Empire, with all the wonderful things that that entailed, like the wholesale introduction of HP Sauce, Camp Coffee and syphilis.

What this meant, for our purposes, is that for the entire hundred year period there was a fairly regular rotation of Public-school educated men called "Bunty" and similar, with double-barreled surnames, demure wives, and unfeasibly splendid moustaches going out to the Subcontinent, almost getting used to the food, and then going home after a year of so retire to a mansion in Sussex with a selection of 'unpaid house servants', because slavery was a terrible thing and had been abolished many years earlier... *cough*

Actually, here's a fact for you... For all intents and purposes, slavery of 'Foreigners' had been abolished in England by about 1780 - But, you could quite legally buy and sell people from Scotland right up until 1799.

So, where were we? - Oh yes, Bunty Tavistock-Heckmondswycke had retired to 'DunColonising' near Tunbridge Wells and realised that the food he was eating tasted a bit bland.  He rings for his faithful manservant, who informs 'Cook' who starts putting rice and something new called 'curry powder' into his smoked haddock in the morning... And thus Kedgeree was born!

Curry powder was a ground approximation of the spices that they got used to eating whilst they were out doing their bit for Queen and country in the mid-day sun.  They didn't get it completely right of course, another popular English tradition, but it was close enough for them.  They shared this new flavour with their chums via the medium of the dinner party and the rest is history.  Coffee Houses started adding 'Curry' to their menus so that the hoi palloy could give them a go.  In fact, in 1810, the 'Hindoostanee Coffee House' opened in London serving all kinds of different spicy meals.  Unfortunately it only lasted a year... Maybe people weren't ready for being so different.  Although to put that in context, England's first Fish & Chip shop didn't open 'til about 50 years later.

The Curry, as we know it is a purely English invention, it has very little to do with anything Indian apart from using some of the same spices and occasionally being served to you by Bengali people in white shirts and bow ties - If you were to wander down Chittagong high street looking for a curry house, you'd be unsuccessful.  It's much easier to get hold of something like a nice a bowl of Shukto, or some saag and kashundi.

A word of warning, the food that Indian people eat themselves is so far removed from what you buy from the takeaway that it's virtually unrecognisable.  Usually it's significantly spicier, I mean, proper 'Let's teach the loud-mouthed football hooligan who asked for a super-hot curry a lesson' hot, and that's just the stuff they give teething babies.

Our next door neighbour brought a pot around last night, she often does if she makes too much, or one of her sons goes out unexpectedly.  She was wearing welding goggles and carried it using those tongs that people who smelt steel use... We had to put it on two baking trays in case it melted through the first one.

I made the mistake of sniffing it this morning, my nostrils sealed themselves up and my eyebrows fell out.

That reminds me, I must go to Tescos and buy all of their yoghurt.

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