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Putting Curry in the Picture


Mathew Angus

CURRY: A TALE OF COOKS AND CONQUERORS
By Lizzie Collingham
Vintage, U.K., 2006, pp. 318, £8.99

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 10 October 2006

As a young child, in late 1970’s Britain, I would often walk into the kitchen to find my mother making a curry. To this day I can still picture it; some kind of meat (probably beef), an onion, a few teaspoons of curry powder and for that touch of exotica, it would be topped off with some raisins. She never served it to me, as she knew I hated it and I cannot remember seeing her eat it either. My parents divorced in the 1980s and following my father’s departure from the household the ‘curry’ was never seen again.   It wasn’t until the 1990s that curry came back into my life. I had been invited to a birthday celebration – an all male affair – and the ‘lads’ and I went to a typical UK-style Indian restaurant. The practice whereby gangs of drunk young men pile into their local curry house is referred to in the UK as ‘going for an Indian’ and it is more of a tradition in the UK than the Royal Family or tea and biscuits. But I had never done it before, and it was in that curry house that I first realized that there was more to curry than just eating a novel cuisine.   The lads treated curry eating as a hobby, a sport even. They would sit around the table and coldly study the menu. Curry eating as a sport is a bit like poker. It involves a player trying to work out the exact balance between ordering a meal that can actually be enjoyed (hence not wasting £30) while at the same time trying to eat the spiciest dish possible. A player must effectively place their bets by ordering. The person who eats the spiciest curry wins, but if two players go for the same level of spice, everyone else will, sadistically observe them throughout the meal and later judge who coped with it the best – sweating, crying or ordering too much beer or water will lose a player points, just as a gymnast might make a fall. The prize is the respect of your peer group, who will consider the winner more of a ‘man’, but the chap who comes in second will still earn respect and can make jokes down the pub about the physiological effects the dish has caused the day after. Pure entertainment; the British gave India cricket and ...


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