An old flame is reignited...
The time has finally come.......and what a stretch it has been. Perhaps it was the cold and blustery weather on Friday, I'm not sure but I finally had a craving to eat Indian food again. Thanks to my little Giardia friends I brought home from India with me in May I have been unable to even stomach the thought of Indian food let alone go anywhere near it. About a month ago I thought I would give it a shot and so The German & I took ourselves off to Tandoori Hut in Enmore, a trustworthy favourite of ours......but that trip only caused more injury than progress, I couldn't do it, after a few mouthfuls my conviction to abstain from this cuisine only strengthened. Then recently I met up with a group of friends for dinner in a particular Indian restaurant we always go to at least once a year. I had to use this opportunity as my second attempt to venture back into the world of Indian food. I chose to go with the blandest, creamiest dish……and to be honest although I could eat, the experience lacked passion and enjoyment and I realized I just wasn’t ready yet. To truly gauge the depth of this distressing situation you must understand the loving relationship that exists between Indian food and I.
It all started about ten years ago when Butter Chicken came into my life, it was the first time I had eaten any Indian food and I loved it instantly....as time went by I began to branch out and try different, spicier dishes, I gained an addiction to chilli and as my relationship with Indian food became more complex, the likes of Butter Chicken became a distant memory as I strove to find more authentic dishes. It started to become apparent that I wanted more than what most restaurants had to offer so I went in search of cookbooks that had recipes of dishes I had never heard of in any restaurant. I started asking every Indian person I met where their favourite place to eat was in order to broaden my horizons, more often than not ‘at home’ was their reply. I realised the best Indian people to put this question to were male taxi drivers, firstly because the majority of them were single and rarely cooked for themselves so often ate out and secondly because they had access to a vast geographical range of Sydney’s establishments. This process led me to a few great new places I would have otherwise never come across. I learnt the difference between northern and southern food and my spice selection went from a couple of jars to a 60x60cm drawer in my pantry full of spices. My interest seeped into all things Indian, especially music. I was eating Indian meals 2 to 3 times a week. It was becoming obvious the time was approaching that I would need to go to India. Thankfully I had introduced The German to Indian food early in the piece and he embraced it with great gusto (although he hasn’t ordered anything other than lamb or beef in 8 years). So when it came time to plan a honeymoon the overwhelming choice of destination was India…….unusual I hear you murmur…..I know, it doesn’t conjure up images of romance and relaxation…..but this trip took place one year after our nuptials, in order to have enough time up our sleeves.
India was amazing, it is a land of contradiction, it defies description. If you wish to gain some insight into the experience that is India then start by reading Sarah Macdonald’s book Holy Cow, it is wonderfully accurate.
In regards to food I was initially disappointed. It wasn’t long before I realized this was attributable to the fact that the food that was on offer in restaurants that western tourists such as myself would deem fit to eat in were created to cater for western tastes and therefore lacked the essence of what I was in search of. I had been warned by all and sundry, including Indian people to avoid eating from roadside establishments. However it became apparent that these roadside places were where the real food was, where the locals chose to eat. I had traveled to India to experience the food so I still wanted to go to these places at least to smell and look……..the food coming from these kitchens, stoves and hotplates smelt amazing and standing by without sampling anything became torturous……eventually my willpower waned and I couldn’t resist…..I decided to throw caution to the wind and started eating from roadside stalls and shacks……and the food was wonderful…..whenever I found something I really liked I would order two or three portions of it and devour it all, licking my fingers with reckless abandon…..oh it was a slippery slope……..before long I found myself eating from a portable cart on the side of a dusty road…….and then it happened….my brazen rebellion was over…..without warning……I found myself confined to the lavatory of the Tundla to Varansi overnight express train…..I shall spare you the horrific details, and I assure you they are horrific…..but I was to remain in this gastric state for another three weeks in India, through two rounds of Indian antibiotics and another 5 weeks and 3 courses of nuclear strength antibiotics at home in Australia before any degree of normality returned.
Throughout my remaining time in India, despite these non-favourable conditions, I continued to eat Indian food. I just could not bring myself to eat western food, I hadn’t traveled so far to consume sandwiches and toast. So when it came time to ordering food my stomach would cry out for a piece of plain dry bread but my heart wanted more and I would always end up ordering something from the Indian pages of the menu ……in hindsight this is what lead to my down fall…..because once I was home, my body and mind had somehow developed an association between Indian food and being ill which subsequently bred my instinctive avoidance of the entire cuisine.
The saving grace of this tale is a southern Indian meal I had in Kerala, on my second last day in the country, to put it simply, it was the best Indian food I have ever eaten. So on Friday night when it came time to nourish my new found enthusiasm I relied on my one shining memory of Indian food, this fantastic meal and chose a great Southern Indian restaurant, The Malabar. I’ll admit, I erred on the side of caution and ordered my old favourite, Konkan Prawn Curry as it is consistently good and because well its one of my favourites. Any angst I may have had subsided after the first mouthful, it was absolutely delicious, the flavours were full of depth, the prawns were succulent and it had just the right amount of kick.
After 96 days, countless Metronidazole tablets later and two failed attempts at reigniting the passion, I have fallen back in love again with Indian food.