One enjoys food, and there is nothing unusual in that, but one of the beauties of living in such a vibrantly multi-cultural society is the availability of so many varied ethnic dishes. In particular the great variety of chillies, curries and other dishes that have the very spice of life as one of their ingredients.
In the New Zealand one grew up in there was this thing called curry, which was frightfully English, and put one off curries for years. Good Lord, it contains raisins, and came from a tin out of Mr Colman’s manufactory. Mother was a fine cook, but curry was not her thing, although Worcester Sauce and similar were always in the pantry, along with an assortment of spices usually only reserved for baking. And then one discovered Mexican food via a friend’s restaurant, and has never looked back. Curry is well and truly back on the menu.
For oneself there is nothing worse than the kindly offer of wait-staff to provide one with a Kiwi-Hot dish. After all one is certainly not going to enjoy Indian-Hot. The look of horror is something to be seen – one has had the experience of the chef coming out to check that the dish is not too hot, only to be told that it is certainly tasty, but could do with being hotter.
And here we come to the nub of the affair. Hot does not mean tasteless, in fact, if all you are experiencing is mouth-searing chemical heat, without being able to taste the underlying flavours, the dish is an abject failure, and probably not prepared by someone who knows which end of the ladle goes in the pot. The heat is meant to enhance the experience, not obliterate it. As a result, a good vindaloo, one that has your forehead moist and your lips tingling should still be filled with an aromatic blend of flavours like nothing else. A genuine Punjabi-hot vindaloo is one of the most delicious curries available, although the much gentler Thai curries also have their place.
Genuine wasabi paste, horseradish sauce, chillie; all of them are meant as flavour enhancers (bactericides in part), not flavour maskers, and if they are the latter, then one must ask what exactly is being masked, and why. It is possible to spot the “packaged effort” wherein the heat overpowers the flavours and leaves one with a vaguely chemical aftertaste and not much else.
Oh, and if one wishes to sort the “men from the boys” as it were, be free with the water-jug as it seems to enhance the burn rather than limit it. Better to consume a fruit juice or hop-based beverage – which goes rather nicely with a kadai or korma. (Ed – got to say, this water-swilling idea goes against the current advice, but it has always worked for me!)
So fear not, Gentle Reader, take the plunge and explore the many and varied dishes now available in our broad landscape of ethnic cafés and restaurants, ranging from the gentle flavours all the way through to the raging primacy of spices that make genuine curries so delectably consumable.
One remains, as ever, your most obedient servant –
Major Blunder, Officer Commanding, Fifth Waikato Dragoons Regiment, Northern Command, Alf’s Imperial Army. Humour in Uniform. Visit the website here.
(Editor’s note – and if you’d like to try a real rip-snorter of a dish spiced to absolute perfection, try puerco pibel, a Mexican classic. Maybe I should make it for the Major some time…)