A guide to eating curry in the most satisfying manner
We hear so often that food in the UK compares with that in France, or even beat it. As a regular visitor to France I know that this is tosh, with one exception: curry houses. On every high street (and some other streets), in every town in France you'll find independent restaurants serving incredible food with three and four course menus from 20 - 40 Euros. I write 'Euros' as I think UKIP has broken in and stolen the Euro key from my laptop, I can't find a Euro sign on it.
In the UK the main equivalents are chains like Zizzi, Pizza bloody Hut, Pizza bloody Express, Ask, Bella bloody Italia, Strada, etc. The only difference between these is the excitement as you present your 1 for 2 voucher, wondering if it'll be accepted on the third Wednesday of the month. In Calais alone, the nearest French town to the UK, you have Le Channel, Histoire Ancienne, Cafe de Paris and Au Coq d'Or, within 100 yards of each other - they are all superb, particularly Le Channel.
I'm around 50 and during my lifetime a revolution took place (ok, revolution is a bit of an overstatement when applied to restaurants but you get my drift). In the late 60s and early 70s the Chinese were arriving from Hong Kong, setting up their take-aways and restaurants. People used to 'go out for a curry' to a Chinese; you can still get a curry in a Chinese now but not many people do. We did respond with the cult of the 'Bake 'n' Take', a sort of non-fish-and-chip English take-away whose main dish was baked potato...
And then the curry houses arrived. There were a few even since the 30s and possibly before because of our links (domination) with India but an explosion began in the 70s, which turned atomic in the 80s and 90s. Atomic in numbers as well as the heat of the curry where rugby players would order a phal, basically chillis and broken glass, to prove their virility with a stomach ulcer, ruptured bowel and bleeding anus. It has become part of British culture, demonstrated so well by the 'Going out for an English' sketch in Asian sketch show Goodness Gracious Me.
The curry houses brought with them even more exciting flavours than the Chinese, the cult of the poppadum and that minty yoghurt sauce we all lap up. Previously, anyone offering mint yoghurt in the UK would have ended up in Broadmoor. The curry houses also brought with them an astonishing level of sophistication at a very low price: beautifully presented restaurants, crisp white tablecloths (speckled and wrecked after the first poppadum) and attentive staff. Towns like Bradford started promoting curry weekends, such was the richness of their curry offering; I went six times! I might not have ever visited Bradford but for this phenomenon, which would have been a shame.
Astonishingly, in the 80s, the trade magazine, Tandoori, began criticising the industry for its lack of quality. Then a revolution really did begin. It was as though the magazine's editor had only ever dined at The Savoy and had not set foot inside a curry house. The industry and its customers let him know and he paid for his ludicrous statements by spending more time with his family.
The industry continues to develop. Now mainly run by Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, there's a move to Nepalese cuisine that is taking off. But there is a code to eating curry and I will attempt to outline it here.
- Politeness towards waiting staff is compulsory. Only w*nkers would ever be rude to staff or other diners with no good reason.
- The pile of poppadums should be poked in the middle and broken into convenient pieces to eat or coat in minty sauce, onion salad, etc. It is never acceptable to take and reserve a whole poppadum for yourself.
- Mango chutney is really for English curries made at home: stews with raisins and curry powder. It doesn't really belong in a curry house.
- Always leave a little piece of poppadum in the basket.
- Although you should order your own dishes, vegetable, rice, etc, all dishes are for sharing (this goes for take away too). Everyone should choose what they like with a view to others having a bit too otherwise they will never venture further into the menu.
- Lager is the most suitable drink to go with a curry, despite what anyone tells you about fizziness. Red wine and, God forbid, Pimms do not work. Non-drinkers and recovering alcoholics can use fizzy water. Children can have cola, lemonade, etc, as they can't taste anything anyway. Always ask if there's a lower alcohol alternative to Cobra as, nice as it is, it's too strong too drink in quantity. Even chilled horse urine like Carling will do the job with curry.
- Order things that you think will taste nice, rather than cause fires. Do not order menu items unsuitable to place within the human body that you will think will impress neanderthals, unless you want to bring on early stomach cancer.
- Don't eat curry with a spoon, it looks ridiculous.
- Do not take the michael out of vegetarians in a curry house; it is the only place where they are not a pain the arse. They can order stuff without anyone even realising how odd they are. In fact, even carnivores can order lovely meals in curry house, not even realising that no animal was delighted to give itself up for the sake of the meal.
- Take advantage of the free liquer offered by many restaurants, unless you're the driver. If you are the driver, accept it and pass it on to a friend who is not drunk enough.
- Give honest reviews of curry houses on Trip Advisor, don't nit-pick.
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