My own personal journey towards the world of Indian curry.
First I have to make a disclaimer. I am British, not Indian. I have never been to India (although Fred has). My entire knowledge of curry is based on the British versions of it. I am aware that British Indian Curry is not necessarily authentic. This is not a bad thing. The fact that curry has become popular enough in the UK for Foreign Secretary Robin Cook to describe that completely faux curry invention, Chicken Tikka Masala as "Britain's true national dish" goes some way to suggesting the Brits like their own interpretation of Indian curry, a lot.
History of my discovery of curry. (all dates approximate)
- Circa 1980. Whilst taking a Commonwealth Badge for her Queen's Guide , Sam bakes the examiner some Indian Chapati Bread.
- Circa 1982. Sam goes to dinner at the home of her teenage sweetheart, Benjamin Allen. His parents are trendy. His mother (shock, horror!) is wearing the same style of clothes as teenager Sam and dangly earrings, to boot. She cooks Indian food. Sam is, at first, terrified about eating something so new and strange, but after the meal, is very impressed.
- Circa 1986. Sam is at college in Bournemouth, taking a degree in Communication and Media Production. One of her flatmates suggest they all go out for an Indian. Why not? They even order a bottle of Mateus Rosé wine. How grown up and sophisticated is that? It's not the wine, but the food that blows Sam away. As a vegetarian she is impressed by the variety of tasty dishes available.
- Circa 1988. Sam buys her first Indian cook book. She thinks it was called The Indian Vegetarian Cookbook. She cooks up an Indian feast including homemade paneer cheese which she pairs with peas to make mutter paneer.
- Circa 1988. Sam moves to London where she discovers Drummond Street. The street is well-know for its string of South Indian Vegetarian restaurants that serve dhosas and chaat. The food is cheap and tasty.
- For a huge birthday lunch treat, Sam and her then boyfriend decide to try out the Veeraswamy. It touts itself as the oldest Indian restaurants in the UK. It's a little bit more fancy that your average Indian and is situated on an upper floor with picture windows overlooking Regent Street. Back in the late 80s The Veeraswamy did a Sunday buffet lunch special for something like £10 per person. Cheap compared to their regular menu, but only just about affordable for Sam at that time. Sam recalls elegance, live piano and wait staff who on learning they were vegetarian arranged for several extra dishes that weren't on the buffet, to be prepared for them.
- Circa 1989. Sam meets up with an old friend from college at a pub called The George in Soho. They put a little change in a slot machine for a bit a laugh. Twenty minutes later they've won the grand sum of £10. (A lot of money in those days.) They hike up to Drummond Street and splurge on a huge Indian Vegetarian feast.
- Circa 1995-2001 Sam and her work colleagues meet up at a Soho pub nearly every Friday night. Not until at least closing time (11pm) do they make their way to their favourite (where favourite means within stumbling distance and still open at that late hour) spot, The Maharani, for a late night, delicious, beery, curry feast. (More on the Soho experience later in the week.)
- Circa 2001. Sam moves to San Francisco where she and her English Friends are depressed about the state of Indian Dining in the Bay Area.
- Circa 2002 Some of those same English friends buy Sam a copy of Healthy Indian Cooking and she starts cooking Indian Food again.
- Circa 2003 Sam and Fred discover the Tenderloin District and all the great places to find a curry there at very reasonable prices. It's not like English curry, but it will do just fine.