I watched a BBC cooking show, a series called Rick Stein’s India which gave us all the colour, dust, crowds, gaudy festivals, temples, gorgeous saris, elephants, and palaces you could ever wish for. An absolute feast for the eye. My favourite street scene shows an elephant slowly ambling along a road bordering a street market, and at each stall the vendor steps forward and offers one item – mostly fruits – from his stall, which the elephant gracefully scoops up with a curled trunk, while the vendor makes a Namaste and a slight head bow.
In amongst this the pink and perspiring Mr Stein, notebook in hand, camera-man at his shoulder, valiantly researched, South Indian cuisine, Rajasthani delights, on and on he went, through humble home kitchens, hole-in-the-wall kitchens in cities, no bigger than a broom cupboard, tucked down side-streets, manned by sweating cooks turning out their speciality – just the one dish, there literally being no room to produce more than one.. He ate street food (and there were never any references to the dreaded Delhi Belly, he must have a very strong stomach!). He ate in a restaurant run by a Maharajah, who personally cooked ‘Jungly Mas’ for him – a simple dish consisting of goat, water, salty, ghee and chillies; he ate at the Indian school equivalent to Eton. He ate at the Golden Temple, at Amritsar, where thousands are fed daily – food is cooked in vast vats over open wood fires, by bare-chested lunghi-clad old men.
No matter where he ate, the theme seldom varied: curry. Sometimes it was vegetarian curry, sometimes fish, but often it was goat curry, masquerading as lamb, called lamb, and never referred to as goat. I gathered that sheep didn’t do well in India. Imagine those thick woolly fleeces in that terrific heat!
He conducted an earnest enquiry during his travels, as to whether Indians use the ubiquitous word ‘curry’ and if so, what they meant by the term? Apparently in Britain, the word curry covers practically any hot and spicy main dish, produced by immigrant families in takeaways, in the local High Street; accompanied by naan bread and lots of lager.
It transpired that most Indians were quite happy to use the word curry, although – strictly speaking – the work means ‘gravy’. But it seems that ‘curry’ has entered the many languages of India, and is widely use, to cover main dishes ranging from the most subtly fragrant to the inflammatory chilli. One Indian gentleman, a famous cook in India, discoursed eloquently and scornfully on the horrors of “Indian Curry Powder”, the boxed variety brought home from colonial service, to dear old Blighty, by the British. His condemnation of commercial curry powder was a joy to listen to! Indian cooks, of course, buy and grind their spices daily, at home, depending on the dish they’re making. I have to agree, that boxed curry powder (Rajah Curry here in South Africa) while quick and easy is always too hot. I don’t like blow-your-sox off fiery curries, I prefer spicy, deep flavoured curries.
So: inspired by Mr Stein, I hauled out my cookery books and made a tasty cauliflower curry for lunch yesterday. It’s quite a fiddly process, what with the chopping up of the veg, the discovery that I do not have fenugreek, or ground clove in my spice drawer, the garlic is finished, and so on – back to the shops yet again. But the results were worth it, and I have a nice stash of curry dinners tucked away in my freezer.
I can’t resist a bargain, especially in the cash-strapped month of January, so I bought vast quantities of tomatoes which suddenly appeared at Food Lovers’ Market at literally give-away prices, and I’ve found a recipe for tomato and hardboiled egg curry. Hardboiled eggs, oddly enough, go well in a curry sauce. Sounds good to me!