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Don’t curry, be happy February 21, 2007

Posted by C Y Gopinath in Food.
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A South Indian, a Punjabi, a Frenchman and an old East India Company hand meet to figure out what curry really is. C Y Gopinath was a fly on the wall

ONE DAY, APPUSWAMY, CHOPRA, SMITH AND BEAUVILLIERS finally met to thrash out a matter that had been troubling serious cooks all over the world: what was the correct recipe for the world-famous Indian curry? Each was a curry expert in his own right, and each disagreed vehemently with the other three.

Appuswamy staunchly maintained that the only place on earth where real curry was South India, and that it was spelt cari.

Chopra claimed that it was actually spelt kadhi, and was a delicious preparation featuring spongy chickpea flour dumplings in a buttermilk-based gravy.

Smith, who claimed it was his real name, said that England had countless Indian curry restaurants, adding that he had eaten in them all. “At least one of them must be serving genuine Indian curry,” he argued.

Beauvilliers would generally burp and hold his peace, as though what he knew could not be shared with commoners.

I knew trouble was brewing when Appuswamy one day produced a dark green tin labelled Original Madras Curry Powder. “Woriginal!” he spat out. “Myself woriginally from Madras. We are not having any such powder. It is a plot.”

“But old fruit,” said Smith patronisingly and with galling logic, “how could you possibly not have it? It says right here in big letters ‘MADRAS’ — so it stands to reason that it must have come from Madras. N’est-ce pas, old frog?” The last line was addressed to the lofty Frenchman.

Beauvilliers burped off-handedly, which Chopra took as his cue to reveal more virtues about Punjabi kadhi.  “In Bhatinda,” he confided, “they put double hing in kadhi. It is the secret why girls from there make good wives.”

Finally, of course, they had to call me in to settle the dispute. I, in turn, lugged in my trusted copy of the Larousse Gastronomique. “Curry, gentlemen,” I began reading, “is a dish flavoured and coloured with a mixture of spices (curry powder) of Indian origin. In India, the ingredients of curry vary according to the individual cook, the region, the caste, and the customs.”

I stopped. Clearly this was a circular definition. According to this, anything cooked in India or by an Indian or with Indian spices could be called curry. Curry was all things to all people. Everybody wins.

“This is a bleddy nonsense written by some French porukki,” rumbled Appuswamy. “In the south, curry is cari and it is not having any spices.”

Chopra looked miffed that curry had been spelt with a ‘c’ again. “In Ludhiana, they eat kadhi three times a week. That’s why the men finally sing on Channel V.”

Smith, tiring of this Third World balderdash, spoke with the air of one settling the issue once and for all. “I say, old fruits,” he said, “sorry and all that, but you simply mustn’t think curry as we know it has anything to do with India, you know. In the Westend, where the best curry places are, we categorise curries as mild, hot and very hot. A standard British curry would contain turmeric, coriander, cumin, cloves, cardamom, ginger, nutmeg, tamarind and chili pepper, and sometimes fennel, caraway, ajowan, mustard seeds, cinnamon —”

“Yes,” said Chopra eagerly. “We make this in Amritsar also but we call it garam masala.”

Appuswamy blew his nose in disgust. “Not a spice powder, saar,” he said. “Yit is a circus. Ye yabomination.”

“Excuse me,” I said to Smith. “How do you know so much about Indian curry powder?”

“Bloody ruled you for years and years, didn’t we?” he said. “Don’t forget, we and the Dutch are the ones who made curry famous over Europe. And if there was a fixed formula for curry powder, you can thank the East India Company for it.”

Beauvilliers stirred. France, land of fussy gourmets, was going to speak. “Messieurs et dames,” he said. “I zink you know who I am. Ze famous Beauvilliers. My father is ze one who, in 1814, proposed the first official recipe for curry powder. But it was in 1889, at the Universal Paris Exhibition, that the composition of curry powder was set by decree. Please remember, France is the home of the ISO standard. When we say thees ees eet, eet ees eet. Voila.”

He proceeded to detail the official recipe for Indian curry: 34 gm tamarind, 44 gm onion, 20 gm coriander, 5 gm chilli pepper, 3 gm turmeric, 2 gm cummin, 3 gm fenugreek, 2 gm pepper and 2 gm mustard.

“Zat ees what we in the west call curry powder,” said Beauvilliers, with a fey flourish.

With that, India’s least known contribution to western cuisine, disappeared from our land forever. Appuswamy, shocked out of his Dravidian wits, sat stunned.

It was Chopra who finally broke the silence. “Main keya,” he said in good Chandigarh brogue, “why worry, dear? It’s only curry.”

Comments»

1. pelicano - February 21, 2007

This was most enjoyable.
As an American, non-Indian, home-bound cook of Indian food, I must confess that I am frequently asked to explain what “curry” is to the unfortunate who wander into my kitchen. I personally avoid using the word at all, but sometimes I extract from the dark depths of my pantry a vintage bottle of the lurid yellow stuff which i made when I was 10. As I am nearly [gasps] 40 now, I trust that it is well-aged like a fine wine, and shall most likely let it age longer yet…

Since writing this, I have learnt not to scoff as much as I used to on Madras Curry Powder. Just yesterday, at a Bangkok eatery called Somboon, we swooned over a crab curry that featured Madras Curry Powder as its chief spice. — Gopi

2. sana - February 21, 2007

You have a very entertaining blog here and, some great recipes. I will visit regularly

C Y Gopinath - June 9, 2015

Hello Sana —

I can’t believe I’m replying to a 2007 letter in 2015. I was going through old mail and came upon yours.

I wonder if you’ve been wondering where my blog has disappeared to. It is true, the blog has unfortunately been inactive for some time. A part of the reason is that I had shifted everything to a new WordPress site. Though it is still under construction, it is ready for viewing.

Please do come back — lots of my food writing is there, and I’m seriously dreaming up new ones now. You can access it at http://www.cygopinath.com — and sign on when you get the subscription form. I will make sure you get a notification whenever I post a new blog.

Cheers!

Gopi

3. Anonymous - February 22, 2007

Am glad I found your blog.Btw,may I ask why you changed your feed from full to partial:-( .It makes it impossible to read at work.So, every post gets added to ‘to read’ list – which never gets read.I end up unsubscribing to those blogs which have partial feeds,which I’d hate to do. in your case.maybe this link will convince you? labnolblogspotcom/2006/12/do-you-publish-full-text-feeds-or.html

Thanks very much for your advice. I have changed the feed partial to feed. Makes gastronomical sense too. Who’d want wedding guests to go away partially fed?

C Y Gopinath - June 9, 2015

Hello —

I can’t believe I’m replying to a 2007 letter in 2015. I was going through old mail and came upon yours.

I wonder if you’ve been wondering where my blog has disappeared to. It is true, the blog has unfortunately been inactive for some time. A part of the reason is that I had shifted everything to a new WordPress site. Though it is still under construction, it is ready for viewing.

Please do come back — lots of my food writing is there, and I’m seriously dreaming up new ones now. You can access it at http://www.cygopinath.com — and sign on when you get the subscription form. I will make sure you get a notification whenever I post a new blog.

Cheers!

Gopi

4. pelicano - February 22, 2007

…point taken! 🙂

5. Anjali - February 22, 2007

CYG

The post is hilarious. Reminds me of a friend who is married to a Scottish gentleman. This Scott won our hearts when he got introduced to our families here in India. He had cooked a curry with believe it not not condensed milk brit style he said. We welcomed him in our family with open arms less said about the curry the better!

6. Nandita - February 23, 2007

Thanks for enabling us desperate ‘Blogger’ users to comment on your blog. being a true blue TamBram I was trying to comment on your DOSAI post, as to how I was nodding my head in agreement to each line. Besides, Wanted to remind you of one all time favourite VELLA DOSAI!

7. Anonymous - February 23, 2007

Zat was the one ze most funny articles I have read in recent times.

Will come back here more often
Cheers
Lalit

8. Lalit Vashista - February 23, 2007

Zat was the one ze most funny articles I have read in recent times.

Will come back here more often
Cheers
Lalit

C Y Gopinath - June 9, 2015

Hello Lalit —

I can’t believe I’m replying to a 2007 letter in 2015. I was going through old mail and came upon yours.

I wonder if you’ve been wondering where my blog has disappeared to. It is true, the blog has unfortunately been inactive for some time. A part of the reason is that I had shifted everything to a new WordPress site. Though it is still under construction, it is ready for viewing.

Please do come back — lots of my food writing is there, and I’m seriously dreaming up new ones now. You can access it at http://www.cygopinath.com — and sign on when you get the subscription form. I will make sure you get a notification whenever I post a new blog.

Cheers!

Gopi

9. Vini K - February 24, 2007

That was one of the most witty pieces on food I have ever read.A pleasure to visit again and again!

C Y Gopinath - June 9, 2015

Hello Vini —

I can’t believe I’m replying to a 2007 letter in 2015. I was going through old mail and came upon yours.

I wonder if you’ve been wondering where my blog has disappeared to. It is true, the blog has unfortunately been inactive for some time. A part of the reason is that I had shifted everything to a new WordPress site. Though it is still under construction, it is ready for viewing.

Please do come back — lots of my food writing is there, and I’m seriously dreaming up new ones now. You can access it at http://www.cygopinath.com — and sign on when you get the subscription form. I will make sure you get a notification whenever I post a new blog.

Cheers!

Gopi

10. dhanya - March 2, 2007

Alton brown of food network -way of curry making [ said as kari in India]
http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/recipes/recipe/0,1977,FOOD_9936_25740,00.html

C Y Gopinath - June 9, 2015

Hello —

I can’t believe I’m replying to a 2007 letter in 2015. I was going through old mail and came upon yours.

I wonder if you’ve been wondering where my blog has disappeared to. It is true, the blog has unfortunately been inactive for some time. A part of the reason is that I had shifted everything to a new WordPress site. Though it is still under construction, it is ready for viewing.

Please do come back — lots of my food writing is there, and I’m seriously dreaming up new ones now. You can access it at http://www.cygopinath.com — and sign on when you get the subscription form. I will make sure you get a notification whenever I post a new blog.

Cheers!

Gopi

11. Neeta - January 27, 2008

I just discovered your blog and am I glad I did! The Gods must be particularly pleased with me today.
This is not one of the – but the most interesting and witty pieces on food I have ever read, thank you.
Its almost midnight right now where I am, but sleep is far away and all I want to do is go through every single post you’ve written……

C Y Gopinath - June 9, 2015

Hello Neeta —

I can’t believe I’m replying to a 2008 letter in 2015. I was going through old mail and came upon yours.

I wonder if you’ve been wondering where my blog has disappeared to. It is true, the blog has unfortunately been inactive for some time. A part of the reason is that I had shifted everything to a new WordPress site. Though it is still under construction, it is ready for viewing.

Please do come back — lots of my food writing is there, and I’m seriously dreaming up new ones now. You can access it at http://www.cygopinath.com — and sign on when you get the subscription form. I will make sure you get a notification whenever I post a new blog.

Cheers!

Gopi

12. cumincoriandercardamom - April 7, 2011

I know i am tad bit late to this post, but i should say its bledy brilliant!! HA ha.. hilarious i must say. Stupendous and other superlative!


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