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OK UK?: Indian Food, England's National Dish
Yorkshire Pud -v- Poppadum
Like a horror movie, many of my generation recoil in horror at what passed for food on our poor embattled island. Vegetables, boiled to the point that made identification impossible, would be sloshed onto our plates with a boiled starch ball that once was a potato, and something limp that used to be meat, original animal unknown.
If covered in a brown sauce (gravy minus the taste), it would have been cow, chicken or pig. If the tasteless sauce was white, it had once been a fish. Didn’t matter, they all tasted the same. Even the addition of salt was rather pointless. The dish just went from bland to saline bland. Because you were not sure what you had just eaten, and the only sensation to be gleaned from the experience was that of feeling full, you then added pudding into the mix.
Pudding was like an entire starch group on the food pyramid, but there was a little sugar added to let you know this was both dessert and a treat. Some fruit may have been involved, usually a raisin, or an upside down pineapple on truly special occasions. The pudding was steamed and covered in a yellowish liquid concoction called custard. This was technically flavored with vanilla, and if you were super lucky could contain little slices of bananas.
This delightful repast would be either dinner or lunch and needed to “see you through” to teatime.
Now, I love my mother dearly, but she was not a happy cook. And not being happy in the kitchen is a guarantee that what comes out will not makes other happy either. She did most of the cooking. Enough said…
My dad on the other hand loved food and was a great cook. His enthusiasm led to some particularly spectacular portions, which meant we tended to eat his offerings over several days, but he created a nascent foodie.
Sunday’s were different. We would roast beef, pork, lamb, or a chicken on Sunday, the first three referred to as the “Sunday joint,” (much to the amusement of She-who-is-adored - California girl, what can I say?) and even better, roast potatoes cooked in the meat drippings. That salty/savory taste made my buds salivate in anticipation. Sometimes the meat and potatoes would be partnered with a Yorkshire pudding and covered in real gravy made from the rest of the drippings and a little flour. It tasted so good I could even forgive my dad his love of brussel-sprouts. If it was lamb, there would be a freshly made mint sauce, if pork, apple sauce. I cannot tell you how much I loved Sunday dinner, (yup, served at noon.)
Pure hell for my dear sister though, an avowed vegetarian from a very young age. She was pressured to eat the meat, which by deft slight of hand usually ended up on my plate, she enjoyed the potatoes, but would physically gag on the spouts, those lovely little concentrated cabbage balls…
I was glad to help out, only the result is that she is a slim as the day she married, and I am not.
There was a little variety once a Chinese take away restaurant opened up in a nearby town, but seeing as “lemon chicken” was the only thing my mother would eat, we all ate lemon chicken. And, knowing no better, thoroughly enjoyed the sauce made of pure MSG with a bit of lemon juice added for authenticity. (Just sauce and rice for my sister…)
On Friday’s my dad would pick up fish and chips on his way home, he taught me to add vinegar to the mix and the sweet salty sharp tang was the best way to start any weekend.
The true taste epiphany came somewhere near my twelfth birthday. Dad belonged to a luncheon club. Once a week, a group of men would gather at a different restaurant to talk and eat. One day, dad came home smelling funny, so I asked why. Turns out that the luncheon club had met at an Indian restaurant, and dad had partaken of a vindaloo. This being the polar opposite of bland, I believe I said something like, “I like vindaloo, dad, can we get some?”
My father, knowing full well that I had no idea what vindaloo or any curry was, sweetly replied, “Next Birthday then?” And the deal was done. I don’t remember doing too many things with just dad and me, but the night of our first Indian meal together, was epic. The restaurant was upstairs, above the Co-op furniture store, and was full of rich red furnishings and the most amazing smell. The waiters were Indian, and thus exotic, the music, strange to my ear, added to the whole experience. This was not a meal. It was a journey to a new and exciting culture, and I relished every part of it.
Chapattis, poppadoms, chicken tika, and my first curry; it was pure heaven. Sure it was a little hot for my young taste buds, but did I care? Every bite was a revelation, the pain giving way to spicy flavors that made my eyes water and my taste buds crave for more. This was the food equivalent of going to a house of ill repute and discovering women after a lifetime of abstinence. Seriously naughty but nice!
I looked at my dad, sweating profusely, with a smile spread from ear to ear, and knew we were sharing a seminal moment in my life.
There weren’t many opportunities to indulge my new-found passion at home, but once I got to University, the love affair was rekindled. One of my best friends was Indian and he began my education in the regional differences as we explored the many restaurants in the city.
I even lived next door to an Indian Take Out for a while. The smell having driven out the last tenant, I got both a reduced rent and my food fix in one fell swoop. After multiple visits the owner got tired of me ordering the same three items and produced a platter with some twenty or so different tastes, with the names handwritten on the lid, and told me to try them all in a particular order.
I found my favorite meal that night, lamb korma, and ridiculous as it may sound, the one thing I truly miss about England…
Dear Hub Reader
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Homo Domesticus; A Life Interrupted By Housework,
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