Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Taste of the Sub-Continent

It’s long been a puzzle to me. Just what did the British do for restaurants before the Chinese and Indians arrived? I know there were some top flight places around – Simpsons in the Strand, Delmonicos and Bertorellis spring to mind, but I mean for the average Joe to nosh at. The Italians brought the exotic pastas to the place but not until the aforementioned got into the act was it by any means food for the masses.
And, with a very edible range of menus, they perform brilliantly, adapting their ethnic recipes to the local tastes and serving it at prices which are strangely reasonable, given the excesses of other eateries. Which leads me on to that great misunderstanding concerning Indian food – that it consists of meat slathered with a “curry” sauce and dished up with rice.
The very derivation of the word “curry” is in some doubt but it most certainly is not Indian but a British invention derived from local pronounciations. It is, in any case, only a sauce or gravy and is not applicable to every dish. A glance at the map of the Indian sub-continent makes it plain that there is going to be a vast range of different food on offer from the various regions. Unfortunately, few of the Indian restaurants dare to test the taste buds of their patrons by serving some of their most traditional dishes and, preferring to play safe, they invented the “Balti,” literally “bucket,” a great commercial success perhaps, but not much like Indian food. Neither is the top seller, Tikka Masala.
My father worked for the Indian Government all his life and so I was exposed to the real food from an early age. As befits an area of the size of India, it is of immense variety.
Camellia Panjabi has almost single handedly brought great Indian food to the attention of the general public. Her London restaurants are among the few where one can get the true taste of India but her biggest contribution has been through her book, “Great Curries of India.”
This marvellous book, rather more than a recipe book, should be in the kitchen of everyone who is serious about finding out about this cuisine.
As is the way of the world, she suffered numerous rejections from publishers who said there was no market for it.
Last week, sales topped the million mark.
So who’s for some Jordaloo Boti? It’s lamb with apricots and is delicious. But I bet you won’t find it at your local Balti house.

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