I’m pretty sure I share my first experience of curry with other children of the 1970s. Our first taste would have been met with some trepidation. You have to realise that, until this point, the most exotic things we would have eaten would have been Findus Crispy Pancakes or Birds Eye Savoury Rissoles.
My Grandmother actually introduced me to curry. Remember, this was the 70s, so nothing particularly exciting at this point. Before I was born she’d had a part-time job in a Fish and Chip shop where they used to make a very sweet, gravy-style curry sauce.
She adapted the recipe at home, adding chunks of apple and handfuls of sultanas. Grandad loved it, even though he refused to eat anything ‘exotic’, choosing to eat his with chips and not rice. Funnily enough he loved Spaghetti Bolognese too, but would refuse to eat pasta! I, on the other hand, was a hugely cosmopolitan child and was thrilled to be offered the rice option. Until that point, I’d only seen adults eat rice, so it made me feel ever so grown up.
Grandma also added chunks of cooked chicken to her curry, left over from that week’s Sunday roast. Apart from the sultana thing, I was hooked there and then. My visits to my local chippy changed forever and even now I have to treat myself to a pot of curry sauce to dunk the chips in.
The 1970s were not a gastronomic highlight of my life. Fast food was in it’s infancy. Homes did not have fridge freezers or chest freezers like they do now. But throughout that decade, home cuisine and takeaway food changed massively. Remember, places like McDonald’s didn’t exist yet, and when they did the branches were confined to the cities and very few and far between.
The next curry-based experience for me will make many shudder. Dried food was a big thing. It was all about convenience, and a Vesta curry was a real treat. We didn’t have microwave ovens then as they were not really made for home use and far too expensive. Our fast food was boil in the bag or freeze dried. I was never too keen on those, but was utterly delighted when Pot Noodle became a thing. Noodles and curry! In a pot! In minutes! It was a revelation.
My parents didn’t have a lot of spare cash when I was growing up, so convenience food and takeaways were very rare. When we did have them they were a huge treat. My next curry memory is of a Saturday night takeaway. I was not allowed to join in this treat and was packed off to bed with a book. But I could smell it. My parents would go out and collect Chinese food. This was the 70s, we didn’t have a phone and there was no such thing as the Internet, let alone Just Eat or Deliveroo. Dad would head off into town while Mum put plates on to warm and packed me off to bed. They would then enjoy their Chinese food. Well Mum would because she read the menu, whereas Dad just ordered chicken curry and boiled rice.
If I was really lucky, there would be a little bit of curry saved for me. As a child, I thought it was delicious. No apples or sultanans and instead, chunks of onions and bright green peas. Yummy. Roll your eyes all you like, a Chinese chicken curry can still hit the spot with me and bring back some lovely memories.
Fast forward to the 21st Century and things are much different. The humble curry of the 1970s is no more. Our supermarkets are full of all the produce we need to make delicious and authentic dishes from scratch. Meanwhile Indian, Japanese and Thai restaurants now compete on our High Streets, offering us amazing menus. We are spoiled for choice and it’s fantastic.
Gone are the days of Indian Restaurants full of overweight, sweaty builders on a Friday night. Still in their work clothes, they would sit there competing with each other to eat the hottest curry possible to earn their Vindaloo badge of honor, while at the same time downing their own bodyweight in lager.
Instead we are able to visit great restaurants where knowledgeable staff introduce us to food we never knew existed. We are able to discover dishes that suit vegans and vegetarians, gluten free is usually no problem at all and even fussy eaters like me will find a new dish to enjoy.
TV shows and cookery books also encourage us to grind our own spices, produce our own pastes and create our own culinary creations at home. And if you don’t have time to start completely from scratch, shops now sell delicious ready made pastes to speed the process along. It can be our little secret!
OK. Busted. Our homemade creation is not entirely authentic. The weekend starts when our Le Creuset pot of love comes out of the cupboard, the Friday night tunes are on pretty loud and the drinks are flowing. We might cheat and use a Madras paste and creme fraiche, but our homemade pot of curry is cooked with rum and love. We just need to work out how to make decent flat bread at home, because supermarket naan is always a let down.
Its National Curry Week, so we want to inspire you to enjoy a great curry dish of your own. It doesn’t matter if you fake it or make it. It doesn’t matter which beer you enjoy with it. Take or leave the poppadoms and pickles (personally I swerve the pickles but love poppadoms!). Order a mixture of dishes to share, order the same old thing, experiment with some side dishes or be like me and order what you like and tell people to bloody well order their own because I don’t share.
Celebrate this fabulous dish however you choose … whatever you create or order, I hope its second to naan.