I am a very faddy eater. I often get obsessed with one or other type of food, and feel compelled to eat it until the obsession passes, which it usually does within a couple of weeks. It's not a problem. I just ride it out and go with it.
It is especially not a problem if my fixation is with something as broad, as varied and as flavourful as Indian food.
I can't even remember when I first ate Indian food. It was probably as a kid growing up in Timaru, and it was probably about as inauthentic as it is possible for Indian food to be. It was probably not really until I moved to Christchurch that I had anything approximating even passable Indian food, and not until I went to London in 1998 that I had anything really good.
We lived in North London, on Stroud Green Road (above a café which used to make me six-egg omelettes!) in Finsbury Park. It was a very multicultural neighbourhood - almost immeasurably more so than where I had come from. There was a big West Indian community, a lot of Middle Eastern people, and an Asian community of all descriptions - Thai, Chinese, Malay.
It was amazing. And it certainly made for amazing food, and it was all a bit of a turnabout to be in the minority as a podgy white bloke (until you went down to Highbury, where the place was full of podgy white blokes, most of whom seemed to be called either Dave or Tony), and I loved it. I thought it was hilarious that my friends from south of the river thought that Finsbury Park was the centre of gang warfare - I doubt that I have ever felt so safe in my life. Conversely, I always found places south of the river - Brixton, Lewisham - a bit "heavy". I guess it's just whatever you get used to.
I remember once phone-ordering a curry from the curry house over the road from my flat. When Plus One went over to pick it up, she found the police blocking her entry to the restaurant - seems there had been a a "scene" in the kitchen, things had got heated, and one of the cooks had whacked a workmate over the head with a pan, and threatened him with a knife, hence the police being called. The first question they had asked was apparently "what religion are the kitchen staff?" - not something I would often have given pause to think about in Christchurch, or Timaru, for that matter.
I never did get that curry...
The best curries I had were from modest-looking places in and around Brick Lane. Amazing food, packed with explosive flavour. I couldn't believe not only how spicy it was, but how brimful of flavour. So many spices, some that I knew, many that I did not - so, so good - and also, it seemed to absorb quite a bit of lager, which was important to me at that time in my life.
Coming back to New Zealand at the end of the millennium, I waved goodbye to the melting pot that was London life. Or so I thought - I came back to a New Zealand that seemed to have changed a little in the time I had been gone. Or maybe it was me that had changed. Or maybe a bit of both.
Moving to Wellington, I found a variety of cultures making the food of their countries (though, regrettably, not many Greeks). One of my first meals out upon moving to Capital City was at Great India in Manners Street, at my old buddy AC's stag do (at which I met SG - another of my best ever friends). I thought it was incredible, at least the equal of anything I had had in London, especially the starters: pakoras, bhajees, samosas. Again, amazing flavours a world away from the stodgy muck that often passes for Indian food. The food was light, beautifully seasoned and delicious. And then there's the maître 'd, Rakesh, who would have to be the most extraordinary maître 'd I have ever encountered. Almost psychic - as though if you thought to yourself "I could do with a napkin", he would already be by your side handing you one. Amazing.
Another thing I realise about Indian food is that I actually prefer vegetarian Indian food. I love paneer, and dhal, and particularly aloo gobi - delicious, hearty, substantial. A bit of heat. And tonnes and tonnes of flavour.
To this end, and with half a cauliflower sitting on the kitchen bench, I did it again - I Googled "aloo gobi". I came up with a recipe referred to in the film Bend It Like Beckham, and after a quick look to see that we had all the ingredients, set to work. You know what? With only a minor tweak (adding extra salt, frozen peas, a splash of lemon juice and fresh coriander leaves at the end, as you do) it was, unreservedly, the best curry I have ever made. Seriously, so easy - give it a go.
My love affair with Indian food is showing no signs of abating, and I have sworn that, by hook or by crook, I will make it back to Great India for dinner, or at least lunch, sometime very soon.
Do you love Indian food? Where was the best you've ever had? Will you give the aloo gobi recipe a try? What is your favourite kind of curry?
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