Thursday, January 28, 2016

Curry Up and Eat

It is a fact universally acknowledged that a young lady in London in possession of a fairly tight dinner budget must be in want of cheap Indian food. The kind that skimps on the price but not on the spice. An inexpensive kick in the mouth. A real bang for your buck (or pow for your pound?).

I'm sure this is exactly how Jane Austen, while dreaming of cumin and coriander, imagined her timeless Pride and Prejudice would one day be interpreted. Well, I can wait for my Mr. Darcy but I cannot do the same for the curry. Which is why I've eaten it four times in the past almost two weeks.

If you want good Indian food, I suppose you go to India. But if you want really good Indian food, you roam the serpentine streets of London, following the ginger and cardamom breeze as it wafts from street side carts and through restaurant doors. Or, you find the highest rated places on Yelp and work your way down the list. What did we do before Yelp? Forage?

Of course, word of mouth from long time Londoners and locals is equally as helpful, and perhaps even better.

Just a few blocks away from my classroom building on Gower Street is a relatively large cart called Simply Thai that sets up around lunchtime and dishes out red, green, and yellow curries with chicken, beef, or veggies on a plentiful bed of white rice. I ordered the green chicken curry- a classic. It's quick and cheap, with a rich coconuttiness that is balanced nicely by the tangy sweetness of ginger and a kick of spicy chili, which delivers a slow, subtle burn that starts on the tongue and works its way through the sinuses, lingering for only a few minutes after the last inch of the bowl has been licked. The serving size is just right for lunch- it's definitely on the heavier side, and too much more would require a nap, in which the satiated consumer experiences trippy, curry-induced dreams. Lucy in the sky with turmeric. So far, this is the second best curry I've eaten while here.

But the best curry I've eaten, to date, in my entire 21.25 years of existence was served to me right before closing by the kind folks of the Gujarati Rasoi stand in the Borough Market. Maybe I'm biased because it was my first meal after sitting through nearly six hours of Britain's economic policies during the Thatcher years/the dangers of neoliberalism and, delirious from the pangs of an empty stomach, was desperate for some hearty nourishment to revitalize my wary soul. But the warmth of the cardboard container in my cold hands combined with the silkiness of the golden-brown sauce on my palette and the warm smolder of spices in my stomach was enough to melt Margaret Thatcher herself, I believe. Gujarati Rasoi is a vegetarian place, but the abundance of lentils, peas, and potato made the dish (a combo of everything they had left) hearty and filling. Cumin, cloves, cinnamon, turmeric, a bit of ginger, and probably other spices I can't recall because I was too busy raving about the deliciousness in my mouth, flickered harmoniously in a comforting culinary symphony. The veggies were tender but not mushy, and a healthy finishing garnish of cilantro and onion added a refreshing crispness to each spoonful. Add in a swirl of their tangy yogurt sauce, and I was in curry Nirvana. Cur-vana.

As I returned to earth from my out of body experience, I reached for a tissue to blot my nose (clear sinuses post curry are always a good sign) and my eyes, which now shone brightly with a single tear of gratitude and a curry-kindled eagerness to return to the bustle and blend of the London nightlife. Perfection.

If this sub-par picture isn't doing it for you, please purchase a plane ticket to London now and I will gladly guide your spiritual journey to the mecca of masalas. 

Stay tuned for my upcoming take on a British classic with a culinary twist- Spice and Prejudice. Or maybe Great Ex-spice-tations. A Tale of Two Curries? Okay, I'm done.