Monday, 28 January 2008

Spice of life

One of the things I look forward to when heading from Paris to London is a decent curry. It is sad but I start fantasising about a medium hot chicken jalfreizi or spicy rogan josh or a something dopiaza with a tandoori or tikka dish as soon as I set off Eurostar ticket in one hand and La Fille in the other. I love the ritual of ordering poppadoms with 'condiments' - onion, mint sauce, mango chutney and the tongue-stripping lime pickle - and a Singha beer, but to be honest, as I do not get out to restaurants - Indian or otherwise - as much these days as when I was single and childless I am more than happy to settle for a take-away or delivery.

I have found many unexpected things in France, including a husband, but I have yet to find a decent Indian curry. This is not a whinge or criticism but a statement. There may well be one, but after a number of disappointing experiences I prefer to save myself for an Indian meal in London. My friend and former colleague at Salut! was more determined and methodical in his quest for a good 'ruby' and received many suggestions on his blog. To no avail. The best curry he found in France was produced lovingly at home by Mrs Salut!

In Paris's Indian 'quartier' the Passage Brady, handily near the Gare du Nord, restaurant staff leap from doorways to accost passers-by with the promise of a free kulfi or glass of impossibly sweet, unidentifiable aperitif. The restaurants have Indian names, smell Indian, waft Indian music across the dining room, have lush crimson cushions and statues of Shiva and are run by very friendly Indians who serve, how shall I put it...some of the blandest curries you will ever taste. For curry lovers like myself, the disappointment is immense. It is like being presented with a Ferrari to drive then finding it has the engine of 2CV. I asked one restaurant owner, who tried to fob me off with a dish of "spicy sauce" with my curry why he did not serve genuine Indian food. He replied: "You are English, you like real curry. I am sorry, but the French don't like spicy food." It is true. Most French people cannot stomach dishes involving spices or chillies. Indian restaurant owners in France are only doing what they do best wherever they pitch up outside of India; adapting to the local market. When in Rome and all that.

So curries are out in France. Not just because it is hard to find the genuine article but also because the Frenchman, being French, does not like hot food and makes out he is about to expire when I put so much as a half a teaspoon of chilli sauce in the leftover chicken curry. I used to enjoy a mild chicken tandoori with my French stepdaughter who, as an exception to the general rule, likes Indian food, but she is now away at university and unavailable for a girlie dinner in Passage Brady when I get a craving for curry.

It is true, I have not helped extend the Frenchman's culinary horizon: once in a local Lebanese restaurant I waved a green chilli under his nose in jest thinking he knew what it was. He did not. Consequently, he sank his teeth into it. He has never forgotten this nor entirely forgiven me. Every now and again the "green chilli incident" raises its ugly head.

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