I’m going to India in October. Have I mentioned this? Maybe just once or twice. Sorry about that. I’m just rather excited. It’s been somewhere I’ve wanted to go for so long that I can’t quite believe I’m now only a month away from actually being there. I have my visa. We have an itinerary. We have our accommodation booked. We think. I’d forgotten how tricky and frustrating it can be booking stuff up when you don’t speak the local language. I had a rather hilarious conversation with a lady at a guesthouse in Bundi which went something like this:
Me: ‘Do you have a twin room available for the 17th and 18th of October’
Lady: ‘Welcome, welcome’
Me: ‘Thank you. So you have a twin room?’
Lady: ‘Welcome, welcome’.
Me: ‘Thank you – but do you have a room on the 17th and 18th October?’
Lady: ’17th and 18th September. Yes. Welcome.’
Me: ‘No, October’
Lady: ‘September. Yes. Welcome’
I think we got there eventually. But it did take a while, and I’m still not sure if we have a room or not. I’ve made a note to try to learn a few words of Hindi before I leave
Alongside these mundane travellers’ hiccups, Joe and I are continuing to eat Indian food at every opportunity. Our latest culinary adventure was at The Damn Good Curry supper club last Friday night, which was recommended by Zoe, from The Spice Scribe. It is hosted by the very talented Indian chef Nilanjani Pai, who had prepared a menu of food from her home state of Goa. I don’t think I’d ever eaten specifically Goan food before, and had in mind rich coconutty seafood curries. This turned out to be only partially true. It seems that the defining characteristic of Goan food is the influence of the Portuguese colonialists, most notably in the use of vinegar, which gives dishes a distinctive tang.
The supperclub was held at Wadham Lodge, a bowls club that had a very village hall feel to it, but the tables had been beautifully decorated.
First up were big dishes of mirchi and batata (green chili and sliced potato) bhajjiya served with two homemade chutneys – a tomato one made with fenugeek seeds, and a green chutney made from coriander, mint and of course, green chilies. The bhajjiyas were twice fried, giving the outer shell extra crispness. These were followed by choris pavs, soft white buns (kindly supplied by Dishoom) stuffed with spicy Goan sausage (sourced from Dos Santos, in Croydon) spiked with the hallmark vinegar.
This was not just a simple supper. It was a feast. Our main consisted of three different curries, rice, a potato dish and a salad. The first was a mutton xacuiti, which we had been warned was very hot, so I was slightly disappointed when it was still well within my spice limitations. But what I really loved about it, and what I love about a lot of Indian food, was the layers of heat. Alongside the hot fresh green and red chilies and chili powder, were warming cumin and cinnamon, giving it great depth of flavour. The chicken cafreal was a Portuguese Christian dish, with the succulent chicken coated in palm vinegar and green masala paste. And finally, the prawn curry was perhaps most like what I was expecting – lovely fresh seafood swimming in a mild coconut milk gravy. In addition, there was a fresh koshimbir salad, a sharp potato dish and endless supplies of fluffy rice.
Just when I didn’t think I could fit any more in, a plate of fresh melon and squares of baath, a light cake made with freshly grated coconut and semolina, arrived. It was the perfect way to round off a delicious menu.
The cooking was obviously stunning, but I was also impressed with the quality of meat used – the mutton came from the East London Meat Company, the chicken from Smithfield market that morning, and the prawns straight from Billingsgate. I was also struck by how diverse the food of just one region in India can be, and how much more than curries the country has to offer. It’s got me even more excited about our trip, if that was possible!