From Our Foreign Curryspondent ... Dateline: Japan!

(The TATTGOC brotherhood extends around the globe, and we welcome reports of curry expeditions beyond Glasgow – here's an epic tale from the far east featuring a couple of our MIA brethren.)

REVIEW: Sharma in Kanazawa, Japan

Your Foreign Curryspondent:
Makhni Knife (pictured above, far left)

Booking Name: Sho Kosugi (as it turned out, the staff were perhaps too young to even recognise the name of the 1980s ninja B-movie master, let alone be duly surprised, impressed or affrighted).

The Pub Aforehand: Sturgis, a small Kanazawa bar run by a lone Japanese rock enthusiast and leather fetishist.

In Attendance: Makhni Knife, Karahi … CHOP!!!, The Korma Chameleon, Poppadom Preach, Fear Of The Daal, Chappati Hearst, and assorted, unnamed also-rans.

Décor: A futuristic suite of white and clear glass, like the cover of Radiohead’s OK Computer album, with added elephant motifs.

Expectations: Five storeys high – given Japan’s relative absence of curry houses, and woefully unspicy native cuisine, this was a rare opportunity to wake the sleeping weegie dragons in our mouths, albeit within the sterile confines of the restaurant level inside a Japanese shopping mall.

The Experience:

It is hardly good manners for a foreign curryspondent to malign his hosts, but it must be reported that the Japanese talk a lot of shit. Chief among their nonsenses is the common belief that Japanese intestines are one or two feet longer than ours in the West, thus allowing them to process food with greater nuance, subtlety and Zen-like patience. Even if this were true, it appears that they must take the rough with the smooth, genetically-speaking. Their samurai digestive systems deal with chilli powders and peppers about as well as they hold up to alcohol – which is to say, like a nation of feudal gaylords. Our foreign tongues being armour-plated by comparison, we boarded the elevator up to Sharma with the same conquering spirit that Admiral Perry’s black ships once sailed into Tokyo bay.

Leading the charge were not one, but two heroes from Trampy And The Tramp’s Missing In Action roster (plus our loyal WAGS, whom Trampy himself gave us special dispensation to bring along). So momentous was the occasion that a caravan of lesser Westerners followed along, inflating our numbers to an almost unmanageable 16. The staff panicked, and the few other native diners practically farted in astonishment to suddenly find themselves an oriental minority among blue-eyed devils, but we were all soon seated at a long and heavily cushioned banqueting table. With our party stretched out across the breadth of the restaurant, Makhni Knife and the visiting Karahi … CHOP!!! (who also insisted upon his own unorthodox punctuation) made the executive decision to restrict all curry club business to their immediate neighbours.

Lovely ladies Poppadom Preach and The Korma Chameleon were included of course, as was South African companion Fear Of The Daal – who not only threw himself into the enterprise with gusto, but also sported the beard and glasses that some would say are becoming a pre-requisite for membership, as well as a ponytail that would look fucking barry on The Tramp – and a slightly befuddled American now known as Chappati Hearst, who barely understood the new nickname that had just been assigned to her (Indian food being almost as scarce in the US as it is in Japan).

Everyone else was rendered effectively irrelevant, and their subsequent conversations were surely too trivial to be recorded here. At the business end of the table, meanwhile, internationalism began to flourish, as Poppadom Preach impressively but unnecessarily read the menu in Hindi, having learned it at her posh London all-girl secondary school, which used to send its brightest, flightiest fillies on exchange programmes to the Shev Shena terrorist training camp in the mountains north of Maharashtra.

The rest of us relied on our imperfect English, potted Japanese, and helpful pictures of the dishes, complete with little cartoon chillies to indicate the spice level of each. The scale went up to five, but even the hottest items – kebab vindaloo, for example – registered no higher than four. The option was available, however, to pay a little extra and “crank it up a notch”, as The Tramp would undoubtedly shriek. Without hesitation, Karahi … CHOP!!! turbocharged his chicken dopiaza by a factor of one, while Makhni Knife doubled down on the unacceptably mild 2-chilli rating of his chicken massala, drawing an audible gasp from the waitress, unable to contain her fear or lust.

The staff, incidentally, were 100% Japanese, including the chefs who worked in plain sight behind a glass screen (although they did seem pretty cheerful – see photograph). Unlike Glasgow, with its prodigious population of South Asian immigrants, Japan feels more comfortable eating foreign food if it is not actually served or prepared by foreigners. What you get instead is their own interpretation of Indian (or Mexican, or Italian), which in this case involves rice that is a little too sticky, portions that are less than generous, and quality mismatches between meat and sauce.

Makhni Knife’s massala, for example, came in a gravy boat so small that he might well have poured it over his own head in protest, if public displays of anger were not considered a sure sign of weakness in this country. And while the sauce itself was decent, though still a bit too mild, the meat was so shredded as to suggest that this chicken had died pecking at a landmine, leaving very little of nourishing substance. Meanwhile, the other meals were arriving at infrequent intervals, which is no big deal in Japan, where everyone tends to share their orders.

Karahi … CHOP!!! (pictured) firmly and Scottishly rejected this policy: “Naebody else is getting any of ma dinner.” Fortunately for him, his dopiaza was a lucky choice. “Not far off the British version,” he reported, meaning this as a compliment. The spice was right for old Karahi, and he was already looking forward to the inevitable lavvy visit – Japan’s high-tech toilets offer a hyper-advanced bum-washing function, perfect for cooling a superheated ring.

Fear Of The Daal, pleased and honoured to have his opinion heard by the world’s foremost grassroots forum for curry appreciation, gave his mughal chicken a mixed review, calling it “tasty but extra-mild, even by Japanese standards”. Having both ordered the butter chicken, Poppadom Preach and The Korma Chameleon had less reason to be pleased, with nice-looking chunks of tikka meat floating in a red sea of Heinz tomato soup. In truth, only the sundries received unanimous approval, with the cheese naan such a delight that one member of our party kept a whole one entirely to herself, creating confusion, resentment, and recrimination over the vexed question of who had ordered what. (Makhni Knife, not known for his forgiving disposition, made a note of the offender in his black moleskin ledger, alongside a sequence of disproportionately extreme and vengeful doodles.)

Simply put, there were not enough of those deliciously melty badboys to go around, and so the meal was rounded out with a bitter taste, assuaged only slightly by two unfamiliar brands of beer – Nepal Ice, which was judged so “authentic” by Fear Of The Daal he thought it might have been brewed from the frozen tinkle of Sherpa Tenzing himself. Everest beer was even better, carrying a picture of Tenzing on the label, and promising to deliver “the timeless essence of Shangri-La”.

Unable to afford more than one or two rounds – even on special offer, Nepal Ice cost more than 500 yen, or £4 per bottle – we faced the customary shock of a Japanese restaurant bill with varying degrees of courage, then advanced into the city, for a ludicrous evening of video games (including a flight simulator which tested the skills of so-called airline pilot, Captain Karahi … CHOP!!!, and found him barely adequate), followed by a long night of karaoke, fuelled by smuggled cans of Chu-Hi Strong, the Japanese equivalent of the Buckie.

Soon, this rag-tag band of away support for TATTGOC began to spill their drinks, slip on the floor, misjudge their own singing voices, laugh loudly at nothing in particular, and misuse an oversized plastic Hello Kitty bowling skittle as a substitute guitar-cum-phallus during a god-awful rendition of Won’t Get Fooled Again. A new dawn rose in the Far East. The Buddha Himself seemed to smile, even as he covered his eyes, ears, and nose. Curry Club had come to Japan.

Range Of Drinks: Beers all round, mostly Nepalese (although bottles of Kingfisher were also available) and a few ¾ pints of slightly cheaper, blander Asahi on draft, served in lovely frosty mugs.

Highlights: The cheese naan was more than a match for any equivalent item on Glasgow’s curry house menus.

Lowlights: Chronically underpowered in the spice department, stingy with meat, inconsistent with sauce. Plus, the huge windows allowed passers-by to stare in like slack-jawed xenophobes – plans for a retaliatory display of pink pancakes were briefly considered, but reluctantly shelved for fear of immediate deportation.

The Verdict: A reasonably instructive first venture for your foreign curryspondent!

The Damage: Upwards of 40,000 yen (£350 approx), for 16 people, which sounds almost reasonable until you consider that at least half of the party only ordered mains, and only drank water or soft drinks. Still, cheaper per head than many Japanese restaurants. (Tipping is simply not done in Japan.)


The Bulldosa said...

Evidently some foreign curry clubs have absolutely no misgivings about allowing females or SAAGs (Squeezes And Assorted Girlfriends) to attend their meetings. What next? Voting rights?

The Bulldosa said...

Trampy's "special dispensation" doesn't count in this instance by the way. He's barred...

Trampy said...

Lies, distrust, mixed messages ... this is turning into a real marriage.

I rue the day that I threw my lot in with The Bulldosa, a despot drunk on power.

Rest assured, he's barred, from Barstow to Bahrain.