Fish and chips. Three words to gladden the heart — or, more accurately, the stomach — of any Brit. It’s now a month since I left St. Pete, so it shouldn’t really be too surprising that I have started to pine for some homely comfort food. And I’m on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, so it should be easy to get fresh haddock here. All of which means, of course, that I have been on the lookout for curry.
The thing is, you see, that the three words that really gladden the stomach of every Brit are chicken tikka masala. It’s Britain’s favorite curry, and curry is Britain’s favorite dish. Fish and chips doesn’t even manage second: that’s lasagna.
I love curry as much as any other Brit. If you’re thinking of inviting me for one — and, frankly, if not, why not? — my favorite is actually lamb bhuna, though any curry with lentils in it comes a close second.
When I first arrived in Dorset, Vermont, I noticed that they had a weekly farmers’ market the following day. So I went along, hoping to buy some fresh fruit and veg, and maybe some meat too. But the first thing I noticed was the curry stall!
The lady wasn’t selling any bhuna, so I got a tadka dall — there’s the lentil dish — a chicken tikka masala, and a saag aloo (spinach and potatoes), each accompanied by a plentiful helping of rice. Don’t you love my Hindi?!
Then I remembered that I was supposed to be buying fresh fruit and vegetables.
A couple of days later, the manager of the place where I was staying called in to check that I had settled in OK. He wanted to apologize that he hadn’t been around when I arrived. It turned out that he’s also British.
“Everything is great!” I said. “I even discovered the farmers’ market.” He smiled and nodded. He said what we were both thinking: “Thank goodness for that lovely Indian lady!”
In Bethel, Maine, I tried out a few of the local hostelries before deciding to venture a little further afield. I came across what purported to be a British pub and decided to give it a go. They had Old Speckled Hen on tap, so that was a promising start. But the real test would be the menu….
I took a look and immediately saw a problem. No curry, you’re thinking. Well, that would have been a problem too, but this was much worse.
They did have curry: two or three of them, in fact. One was a vindaloo. I decided on something very definitely American.
After I had placed my order, in came a couple of families with young children. It soon became apparent that they too were British. After ordering drinks, they asked if the pub served food. “Yes”, came the reply.
So one of the men said that, since we were in a British pub, they must serve curry. (Note: there was no mention of fish and chips during this exchange.)
“Yes” again was the answer. Which was then met with the not unreasonable “what curries do you have?”
“So”, said the landlady, “we have a mild vindaloo …” She never finished the sentence. The problem was just all too apparent.
You spotted it immediately, didn’t you? (I know Shazza has. It’s a matter we have discussed before at some length. Well, I discussed it at some length and she was somewhere in the vicinity at the time.)
You didn’t? OK, well, you’ve learned some Hindi already. But now you’re going to learn something absolutely fundamental to human existence. (Shazza feels so much better for knowing this now.) You can’t have a mild vindaloo!
A vindaloo is one of the spiciest curries around. Unless you’re a smoker, whose taste buds are already shot to smithereens, it should feel like a small nuclear explosion has just gone off in your mouth.
And don’t try to placate me — or any other Brit — by offering me a choice of heat. The question of whether I want it “hot, medium or mild, sir?” is one I never want to hear in an Indian restaurant. And no, it doesn’t help if, having just identified my accent, you then add: “You can have it American medium or Indian medium.”
As the other Brits in the pub were at pains to point out, a vindaloo can only ever be (Indian) hot. Anything else just isn’t a vindaloo. If you want a mild curry, have a korma or a butter chicken. But don’t emasculate that poor vindaloo.
Those Brits left to eat elsewhere.
I found an Indian restaurant earlier today. Apparently, it’s new. They have a porch outside, so I can take Strudel. And there’s no mention of a mild vindaloo or a choice of heat on the menu. So I’m going to chance it.
Surely it can’t be as problematic as the tea debacle …