Wednesday, 5 February 2014


Unlike most British people, I came late in life to Indian food. Growing up in an Italian immigrant family it sometimes felt like you needed a passport to come through my front door, and la cucina was strictly Italian apart from the rare occasions when, in the absence of my father, my English mother would serve us baked beans on toast, fish fingers, or any of those other 1970s British favorites. Christmas was an exception, when British turkey and all the trimmings graced our table, but for most of the rest of the year, we could have been back in magnificent Venice, rather than sunny Bournemouth, when it came to food.

And so it was that at approximately 11.45pm, one Friday evening in 1990, some University friends of mine dragged me into the Shere Khan restaurant in Rusholme, Manchester and my education in 'Indian' food began. The experience was unlike anything I had before. There was succulent meat, clothed in simmering sauces, so full of flavour, that you rushed to savor before the heavy spices made your taste buds numb. Soon names like korma, bhuna, rogan josh started to take residence in my vocabulary. I learnt that keema meant beef mince, aloo, potato and that paneer was a kind of cheese. I started to shop in the groceries in the Indian quarter of the city that were pervaded by the lemon fresh scent of cumin and the names of the spices, which until then could have been Martian, became things I recognized and understood.

I was of course aware that British Indian food, which is in the first place a general term referring to the food served in Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi restaurants without differentiation, had been heavily adapted towards western taste. However, this was the only version of Indian food available to us, and to be honest, it suited my western taste so well that I didn't feel the need to explore further. And short of marrying into an Indian family, there really wasn't the opportunity to learn about real Indian food in the UK at that time.

My love affair with Indian food, in which I ate at least one curry a week, continued until I left the UK several years ago to settle first in Italy, then in Switzerland, and finally in France. In those countries, Indian restaurants are virtually unknown outside the big cities, and then the taste is so different from, so bland compared with what I had grown used to in the UK, that our relationship broke down. And ever since, I have only had Indian food cooked at home, from my copy of Kris Dhillon's The Curry Secret or on one of my regular business trips to Hong Kong, where the British Indian food is more British than in Britain.

But this has all changed.

I have recently been lucky enough to have met and become friends with the incomparable Monica Bhide, food writer, teacher, and all round domestic goddess, and to have discovered her amazing book Modern Spice, which has finally opened my eyes to real Indian cooking, with flavors even more balanced, complex, and sublime than I could have imagined. And so, Indian Wednesdays were born: every week I will cook a meal from Monica or Modern Spice and post photos and experiences here. If you'd like to join in, I urge you to buy a copy of this wonderful book now. 

1 comment:

  1. I've really enjoyed reading this, and would add that my own experience, having studied at Leeds and worked at the University Library in Bradford, is very similar - 'adapted' curries for the British palate, with the honourable exception of the Karachi Social Club in Bradford, which is a wonderful, unreconstructed, Indian working men's lunch hangout. My first experience of true upmarket Indian food came in Kuwait, and regularly since in Dubai, where the huge expat population ensures that every Indian can eat in a restaurant where the chef is from his or her own region! I asked the guys who took me for lunch in Kuwait why they chose that particular restaurant, and they said 'because the chef cooks like our mothers cook, back home in Lucknow'. Lucky boys!