Saturday, April 16, 2005

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.

Indian Curry and Spice Week logo

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.

posted in and and and and
My own personal journey towards the world of Indian curry.


  • At 17/4/05 06:05, Blogger Zarah Maria said…

    I love this idea! Indian is almost nowhere to be found in Denmark, so picking your brain on the topic sounds like a neat way to get an idea of what I might like...

    Have you noticed how a lot of foodbloggers used to be vegetarian? I'd like to think a lot of my passion re. food started with being a vegetarian - for me vegetarianism (is that a word?!) was somehow a search for unadultered tastes, that ended up making me think all aspects of food very interesting...

  • At 17/4/05 07:25, Anonymous teri said…

    I loved this, Sam. I discovered Indian food in college (I was a vegetarian then too!), but really fell for it when I studied in England. It was really the only vegetarian food available in the town that wasn't Pizza Hut, and I ate it constantly, loving the incredible array of spices and the fact that you could make a proper vegetarian meal out of it. I miss English curry too!

    So looking forward to reading the rest of your musings. Now if only I would just start my own blog already, I could go to s'cool and join you in reminiscing! Soon, soon...

  • At 17/4/05 10:48, Blogger cucina testa rossa said…

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  • At 17/4/05 10:50, Blogger cucina testa rossa said…

    the best indian cooking class i've ever taken is Ruta Kahate's in the east bay. definitely worth checking out:

  • At 17/4/05 11:34, Anonymous Oliver said…

    I could have Indian food every other day! In fact, Sam, we just finished a fine variation of Korma Chicken tonight. Unfortunately we -here in Munich- don't have the broad variety of Indian restaurants you would find in the UK, so we're pretty much left to our own devices...from an inspirational perspective. Fortunately there are some very good Indian cookbooks out there...

  • At 17/4/05 14:19, Blogger deborah said…

    This is great, and I love the timeline :) I would even go far as to say that the title should be curries or cuisine. Because across the country of India you will find (as your time line indicates) the variety of Indian cuisine from north, south, east to west. And lets not forget the unique cuisine that comes out of Goa. Then there are the varieties of rices (cocnut rice, lime rice just to name a few). If one is to explore curry alone, one would totally miss out on the other delicious and heavenly delights of Indian food.

    I look forward to reading more about your experiences with Indian cuisine.

  • At 17/4/05 16:54, Blogger Sam said…

    Hey Zarah Maria - I can't imagine living in a country without Indian food. Do you like spicy food? Not everything Indian is really hot, but it is often very flavourful.
    So did you use to be a vegetarian. I was for 10 years including a 1 year stint as a vegan. I still love vegetarian food but I have been eating meat fr the past 10 years now.

    Teri I hope I will be able to bring back some good memories for you. You know you are still more than welcome at S'cool as a commentor and soon as your blog is up we can truly welcome you into the fold.

    Cucina Testa Rossa - thank you fro the tip. I will definitely check it out and hopefully meet you soon!

    Oliver - I am with you. I started writing my Indian posts yesterday and since then have been antsy for an Indian meal. So Fred and I are going to try out a cheap little place in SF tonight.

    Saffron - have you ever had shrikand (sp?) - its an amazing Indian dessert made from you! (Saffron). Maybe I am going to have to dig out a recipe. It's years since I had it and it would be good to revisit.
    I don't imagine I will cover anywhere near the full scope of what is possible Indian wise this week, but I'll do my best.

  • At 17/4/05 23:47, Blogger Owen said…

    Hmmm - we've got to get you out a bit. I started a little earlier than you on Indian food, but probably in many of the same places - I loved Drummond Street and remember Dhosas in particular very fondly. (I was a vegetarian for 9 years so that fits in too).

    I was taught a lot about cooking Indian by my pal Brett Vallier (wish I knew where he was exactly) who introduced me to the basic stages of a good curry (the seeds, the chilli/ginger/garlic pastes, the initial set of ground spices, teh meat/onions, the vegetables and sauce, the second set of dried spices). Then the shock at how bad Indian food was in the Bay Area (this was back in 1989). We found The Sizzling Tandoor in Jenner on Highway 1 at the end of the Russian River in 1995. It is still there and is still equal first for tandoori and still absolutely number one for masala chai (but everything else is mediocre). Number two came in 1998 in a converted dairy queen in El Sobrante (the rumor is that Bruce Aidell is a regular) - chicken tandoori USA - at the time they did a piece of tandoori chicken and pilau rice for 99 cents. Still equal best for tandoori and better than naan and curry for everything else. They recently opened a branch in Concord which is a little nicer ambiance and has fat tire ale on tap. Naan and curry was also a pleasant surprise. Contrary to your belief, Sam, the best ones are in the East Bay.

    What is the point behind all this? The best indian food I've found in the Bay Area is firmly AWAY from San Francisco. I hear great things of a mind-blowingly spicy Pakistani place at the end of University in Berkeley.

    And finally, the BEST cook book for new and old indian food lovers is Maddhur Jaffrey's Quick and Easy Indian Cooking. (If you want a link to it, go to my blog and do a search...) It is better than her many not quick and easy ones. I have never made a bad dish from it. The spicy grilled chicken (masawala murgh) is fast, easy and the best grilled chicken there is.

    Sorry to be so opinionated, but there it is. Oh, and just so you all know, none of the top three places mentioned would make the list in England, even though at least one would make it onto my Bay Area top 100 restaurants

  • At 18/4/05 01:19, Anonymous P. said…

    the place on university is called Kabana and its actually pretty good and authentic -- i'd recommend the aloo paratha (a whole wheat bread stuffed with potatoes then fried on a griddle with lots of butter) and the goat curry. mmm! their specials are usually worth a try, but don't expect ambiance or service to be very good (it reminds me of sf's shalimar in the early days).

  • At 18/4/05 06:36, Blogger Zarah Maria said…

    Used to be a vegetarian, yes - now I 've re-named myself "a picky eater" - much better, isn't it?;-P I like spicy, but the Indian dishes I've tried cooking myself has probably been of the more mellow kind. The thing that annoys me about cooking Indian myself is I have no idea as to what they're supposed to taste like - but I guess as long as I like them, authenticity doesn't matter as much...

  • At 18/4/05 08:15, Blogger Niki said…

    It's kind of confronting to hear of people in countries i think of as similar to my own (ie Denmark..Norway) not having had the same experience with Indian and South-East Asian cooking we've had in the UK and Britain. There's a lot to be said for the British Commonwealth; it educated the palates of its homogenous, meat & 3 veg citizens!
    There is a big Indian, Sri Lankan and Pakistani community here in Australia, so Indian is really popular - especially for a quick take away. I like it better in winter when the casserole-like textures and tasty spices really warm you up.

  • At 18/4/05 08:16, Blogger Niki said…

    Ooops - I did mean UK and Australia, of course!
    (I really need some sleep, Is very late here...)

  • At 25/4/05 07:20, Anonymous Tim said…

    Can't belive you were a Bournemouth Student too. I graduated from the old Photography and Film course in around '86.

    Bloody Bournmouthians get everywhere.


  • At 21/5/05 13:51, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Stumbled upon your blog, I have to say love the site design, great use of colors too.

  • At 29/12/05 17:04, Anonymous Jean said…

    Hi. I would like to make friends with people who enjoy indian cookery. I've joined this site (indian cookery) to try to meet some new friends but I wondered if you knew of any other such sites.
    Many thanks


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