Step aside, fish and chips, there is a favorite food style in town in the UK — Indian curry. It’s actually not new nor new to the UK (the first Indian restaurant opened there in circa 1773), and it’s certainly not new to tea time, especially that evening meal often called “High Tea.” So, it’s no surprise that tea and a curry “take-away” (what we in the US call “take out”) are a natural pairing — at least they are at our house.
By 1990 Indian restaurants were a common sight in London and other parts of the country. Having already acquired a taste for spicy cuisine, I was very happy to see this during my stay there and never failed to grab some on my way home. Dinner would be tea and the curry take-away. Fortunately, even then I indulged with care so as not to overdo or the pounds would have piled on!
As it turns out, a lot of these so-called Indian dishes have never even been heard of in India by the general population. Vindaloo, my favorite (usually made with lamb) is from Goa but is based on Portuguese cuisine. Jal Frezi and Madras Curry are a couple more dishes made up to meet British taste. Sort of like chop suey in the US. Other dishes considered to be “Indian British” are Balti (a spicy hot stir-fry), Phall Curry (made with Habaneras which are extremely hot peppers that aren’t even grown in India), Tindaloo (Vindaloo with Habaneras added), and Chicken Tikka Masala. I am familiar with the last one. It is basically a “wetter” version of Tandoori Chicken. And now there’s a new dish called Jalfrezi that is overtaking Tikka Masala in popularity.
Regardless of their origin and authenticity, they are very popular and palate-pleasing!
The tea I like best with these is a good, strong Assam, preferably the CTC style and with a pinch of masala, a big splash of milk, and a packet of sweetener. The strong tea is needed to reach your tastebuds in spite of all those spices. The fat in the milk helps neutralize the capsaicins in the peppers used to make the dish spicy. (You could also have some sour cream or even a regular, not non-fat, yogurt afterwards, or try a drink made with yogurt called a “lassie.”) The sweetener actually heightens your perception of the tea’s natural maltiness and counters the bitter and astringent edge.
Of course, you don’t have to go for curry take-away to have authentic curry flavor. There are jarred curry sauces and pastes from Patak and Bombay Authentics among others, where you just add the meat and/or vegetables of your choice for an at-home spicy experience. No ordering. No driving to pick it up. Just delicious and freshly made curry! Don’t forget to steep up a big pot of tea while the curry is simmering.
See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.
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