It is National Curry Week this week in Britain and people are urged to go out and have a curry. not that many need urging. Isn’t chicken tikka massala the favourite dish in the UK now though unheard of in the Subcontinent ? If you click on the link above you will see the top 10 curry restaurants in the UK with number 1 in Alva Scotland so thank god they voted no or we would need a passport to get there.
Amazingly the first curry house opened in the UK in 1809 when Sahe Mohamet opened one in George Street off Portman Square in what is now London’s West End. Little did he know what he was starting as there are now 9,500 in the UK employing over 100,000 people.
There can’t be many places around the world where there isn’t an Indian restaurant these days. In India it is a standing joke that there are no bends in the roads in Gujarat State as otherwise someone would open a shop there and it must be true that any corner attracts a Bangladeshi to open an Indian restaurant.
However there is one province in Italy that doesn’t have a curry house and that is Puglia where I live. I guess there are just not enough expats and the locals are not big on trying new things. People in Martina Franca will tell you the food eaten in Ceglie 6 kms down the road is not as good as theirs so they are hardly likely to try food from the other side of the world and they don’t. Sometimes this is a good thing. Puglia must be one of the few places in the world where MacDonalds had to close a restaurant due to a lack of customers. However for me a lack of a curry place is a disaster.
After 3 years living in Bombay I need a curry fix at least once a week . Luckily showing huge foresight before we left Bombay Geraldine asked our housekeeper Josephine ( she was baptised into the Catholic faith having been born of a lower caste) to teach her how to make about 6 of our favourite curries . That well worn notebook she has since carried around the world with us.
But the million dollar question is can you get the ingredients to make a great curry in Puglia. The answer is if you have a Dico supermarket nearby you can. They sell ground cumin, ground coriander, turmeric and cayenne pepper, the basic ingredients for a chicken curry. What there are plenty of in Puglia is hot chilli peppers or peperoncino . You buy them in huge bunches in September and freeze them to give you a years supply. I actually grow my own during the summer but like so may things in Puglia when there is a glut as there is each year it is cheaper to buy in the market than grow your own by buying the plants in April. Ginger is widely available and we buy ours from Auchen supermarket. What is impossible to find is fresh coriander and so we bring seeds from the UK and grow our own.
I have a playlist on iTunes to go with the curry night each week The Top 40 Bollywood Songs.
Bollywood films have come a long way from just showing wet saris !!
One of my first curries was in a curry shop in Eton High Street not far from where I lived. I went with a couple of friends after an evening in Windsor in various pubs. One guy Jeremy asked the waiter for the hottest curry they could make. They duly obliged and even the cook came out to watch him manfully attempt the last few mouthfuls with sweat pouring down his face and a rather green look about the gills. The next day I was walking in the village and saw him go past in his old Land Rover. On the seat was a roll of toilet paper and I found out later that his father had banned him from the house loo and he was having to use the public one in the village car park.
Eating curry late at night is normal in Bombay where parties might officially start at 8.30 in the evening but people arrive until midnight and early arrivals have to try to limited the amount of Black Label whiskey they throw down their throats. At just after midnight a buffet of different curries is laid out for the guests to help themselves to and once you have eaten you are expected to leave immediately. You stagger home full of Black Label and curry to try to sleep at 1 a.m. No wonder most businesses there start at about 10 a.m. though everyone then works till 8 p.m. at least each evening.
Surely soon one of the many Bangladeshi illegals passing through Bari and Brindisi on their way north to the UK will pause and rather than finding part time work in the market think ” I could open a restaurant in Martina Franca ” he would have two customers straight away.