Thursday, November 22, 2007

Britain strikes back at the Empire

Recently there was an interesting news item. The British retail chain Marks & Spencer is planning to sell curry in India through franchise shops. Soon Indians can taste 'British' curry without visiting the Curry Houses of that country.

The word curry is said to have evolved from kari in Tamil. In Malayalam also the same name is used. It means different types of culinary products in different parts of the world. But basically curry is a side dish or secondary dish eaten with rice. It could be made with meat, sea food, eggs or vegetables, the common factor being spices.

During the Raj, the British became enamored with curry and rice and took it to their country where it gained great popularity. Whether the sahibs got on to the curry habit from the Anglo Indians (AI) or vice versa is not clear. Without doubt, the AI cuisine is excellent.

The best AI chicken curry I tasted was in Delhi in January 1954. To remember it after half a century is sufficient testimony for its excellence. I was traveling to Ludhiana as a member of the Mysore University hockey team to play the All India Inter University finals against Punjab. We had a two day break in Delhi.

My hostel friend Eric Perriera had insisted that I should visit his parents. His father was a civilian officer in the Defense Department at the capital. Eric’s mother gave me a lunch of chicken curry and rice. It was superb. I lost touch with this good friend of mine. Some one told me later that he had migrated to UK and joined the RAF. I would be grateful for any lead about him.

Talking about Delhi and food reminds of an ‘Indian’ dinner we gave a General Tires (Akron, Ohio) delegation at Ashoka Hotel. This was in 1972, after signing an MOU with them for technical collaboration for Apollo Tyres. The Americans were keen to try Indian food. Many foreigners do not know that India has so many different cuisines. The meal served that night consisted of mulligatawny soup, tandoori scampi, butter chicken masala with roties, and kulfi.

Mulligatawny soup, as far as I know, is an AI adaptation of the South Indian rasam (sometimes wrongly called ‘pepper water’). It is normally served hot. But when The Taj (Bombay) opened Tanjore Reastaurant in the 1970s they used to serve chilled rasam as appetizer. It used to be excellent.

To conclude, here is a Raj story I read somewhere. A sahib traveling by train was having lunch at a railway station restaurant. As he was relishing the chicken curry and rice, the train left. On realizing that the passenger was still at lunch, the upset station master rushed to him and said, ‘Not to worry sahib, take your time. I’ll call the train back.” He did.

Ah, the Raj days!


Also see: Bangalore memories


Guru said...

I am not sure whether Indians travelling to Britain ever tasted Marks and Spencer's 'curry'. I am a vegetarian and I have tasted the microwaveable Marks and Spence 'curry' and other vegetarian varieties they prepare for microwaves or oven. I like them and they are indeed measure up to Marks and Spencer quality which is well known in Europe. Marks and Spencer is the HP counterpart for clothing and food (Like the Hewlett and Packard, Marks and Spencer were two Jewish men from Manchester who started the business in a humble way decades ago. Soon Marks and Spencer shirts, jackets, suits and particularly women garments became known for their quality and value for money.

Many British cities have markets where Indian vegetables are sold fresh. The green coriander and karela (bitter goad as the Indians call them) are so fresh that I have not seen the likes of them even in those glory days of the Devaraja Market in Mysore or markets in Bangalore or Chennai. Green (Raw) bananas (called plantain in West Indians) coming directly from the Windward Island in West Indies every week are of superb quality. I know a thing or two about green bananas, as my ancestral land in Trichy cultivated them for markets. But they cannot match the quality of the Windward Island green bananas sold in London markets. The banana chips made from these bananas have a unique unmatched taste. Ripe bananas ( the fruit) again from Windward Islands are cheap and tasty. I have lived in the USA, the bananas there are from South America, a sqashy variety and are no match for the above bananas.

It is like carrying the coal to Newscastle. I have found that vegetarian meals prepapred by even the best Mangalore brand hotels in Bangalore, Mysore and Chennai are often salty and hot(in spicy terms). Whenever I visit India my famil prepares me dishes of green bananas and yam assuming that I have been hankering to taste them and to their disappoinment I tell them that they do not taste as good as we prepare in Britain.

Marks and Spencer brand is well known for quality and there is history behind them not failing in their endeavour.

Abraham Tharakan said...

Guru, thank you for the informative comment.

Ashvin said...

The original meaning of Anglo Indians were the English living and working in India. It was not racial. It was later on that the term was used to define mixed race people of Indian and English ancestry.