Unbelievably, it’s been over six months since the last instalment in TATTGOC’s ongoing series demystifying the world of curry. Judging by both our most recent outing (to the Dubai Grill, more on which next Thursday) and our lassi-drenched visit to The Village last year, I think it’s safe to say that January is officially the month that the TATTGOC bretheren most closely associate with the cooling, soothing, comforting joys of lassi. Maybe it’s because we’re trying to cut back on the booze after the festivities, maybe it’s to combat the overspending of Christmas, but it’s now become tradition to forego the furious onslaught of multiple pints of lager in favour of the traditional and authentic joys of an ice-cold lassi. But what exactly is it?
Lassi is popular across the whole of India and Pakistan and is a cold drink made of yoghurt combined with water or milk which is then sweetened or spiced to taste. The resulting beverage is a perfect accompaniment to any curry, but is especially revered for its ability to cool the mouth after even the most fiery of dishes. In the UK, most Indian restaurants offer sweet or salted lassi but the mango variety – which simply adds mango pulp to the yoghurt/water mix – can be found here too. It seems that the beauty of the lassi in India is the wide variety of possible flavours and mixes that can be created. Spiced lassi, for example, usually contains ground roasted cumin seeds as standard but after that the exact spice mix will vary depending on the seller. While mango lassi is the most common flavoured variety found in the UK all sorts of other fruit can be used to liven up the drink.
Different regions have their own specialities too – the particularly rich saffron lassi is a favourite in Jodhpur and Sindh. Rajasthan seems to be the epicentre of lassi experimentation however, specialising in not only saffron lassi but also makkhaniya lassi and the notorious bhang lassi. The Tramp thinks that there is surely a market for makkhaniya lassi in Scotland – it’s lassi with lumps of butter blended through it, and has been described by one traveller as tasting almost like cheesecake but not quite.
Bhang lassi is made by grinding the leaves and buds of the marijuana plant to a thick green paste which is then blended into the lassi – with typically cosmic consequences. Basically, they’re just massive space yoghurts. Check out this footage of famed chef and legendary badass Anthony Bourdain sampling a bhang lassi from a government-approved vendor in Rajasthan. Note that he is offered varying strengths of the concoction – “normal strong, super-duper sexy strong and full-power, 24 hour, no toilet, no shower.” Oaft!
So there we have it. Whether you just fancy a break from the booze or are trying to calm the fire of a particularly brutal vindaloo, why not try a lassi? TATTGOC recommends it. Just remember the words of wisdom from our fellow Scots over at the We Love The Lassi’s: “a Scottish lassie is not a yoghurt based drink.” (I’d also recommend popping over to read their blog, charting the progress of three Scots as they travel from Nepal down to the south coast of India in a tuk-tuk for charity.)
“Spices, spices, always I am eating spices,” says robbing bastard, liar and general bad guy Bernard as we hurtle around Colombo in a tuk tuk. Shortly thereafter, he demands 2000 rupees (less than an hour ago, he'd said it would be 300) for allegedly giving us a tour. In fact, all we've done is tear around the block and get dumped outside a Buddhist temple in front of a couple of bemused monks. Something tells me that the clipboard identifying him as a qualified tour guide may have been fabricated ... Here, in Sri Lanka’s capital, he is not alone in being spice fiend (or bastard for that matter) which perhaps goes some way to explaining why mosquitoes feast so readily on tourists, but leave locals well alone, no matter how much they chance their arm.
In Sri Lanka it’s not uncommon for people to enjoy curry three times a day; certainly local agriculture is set up to make that as easy as possible, with rice paddies and spice gardens fighting for light amid a jungle of coconut trees. It’s cheap and it’s readily available, meaning many locals have curry quite literally seeping through their pores. Sri Lanka has a reputation for producing fiercely hot curries, but most chefs will tailor it, depending on your taste. As I’m with Phall From Grace (ma burd) this generally means we can take it easy. In nine days on the island, we have it only four or five times and I never do quite manage to gather the courage to have it for breakfast.
When ordering a curry here, it’s not just a case of picking a single dish and a single rice, nor are there the wide choice of types of curry. There is simply Curry, the term for any dish at the heart of a sprawling spice selection. It’s not uncommon for ten or more tapas-style bowls to be fighting for room on the table by the time a waiter has finished. At the centre sits a perennial, preposterously large, bowl of rice. Coconut sambal also turns up in every restaurant and hotel, as does potato dahl. In each instance they are far spicier than I, as a colonial wimp, expect. Green beans, mushrooms, tomatoes … All of them for the basis for individual dishes, making for a colourful display.
Unless eating in a particularly posh restaurant (I’d recommend here for that kind of thing) any meat within the curry is almost always chicken, and almost always inedible. Mercifully we avoid any explosive repercussions from eating the meat, but that’s mostly because in the slightly dingier places (and there are thousands) the meat is often bone-heavy and rarely worth wrestling with.
Perhaps that makes the whole experience sound a little disappointing, when it certainly isn’t. Each of the dishes tastes wonderfully distinct from one another – there’s none of the creamy blandness you might find in a UK curry house here. The ingredients, which spring from plants that cover every inch of non-developed land, taste wonderfully fresh too.
Aubergine pops up regularly and is always a surprise treat as does the frequent – if subtle – flavour of cinnamon. That’s mibbe not so surprising when you consider that Sri Lanka is the world capital when it comes to the growing and harvesting of the stuff.
It’s a similar case with jackfruit, which can be prepared as part of its own curry, but is also used to make the papadoms. The flavour is much stronger – and, in the opinion of this curryspondent, better – than would be found in the UK.
Their presence often makes up for the almost total absence of naans. Indeed, on the one occasion we are served our doughy favourite, the offering is petit, pancake-like and not altogether worthwhile.
The same cannot be said for the local lager, Lion, which comes in big 700ml bottles, is dirt cheap and actually tastes Pretty Good. Alongside the wide, generous selection of curry dishes I find in Sri Lanka, it’s just about enough to take my mind of that shiny shyster Bernard.
Tikka Mabaws, out.
Name: The Gheezer / GZA
How did that nickname come about? It was bestowed because of my London provenance. And because it has the word Ghee in it. I’m only kind of from London though, having spent some early years in “frightfully” Surrey. GZA is obviously an abbreviation of Gheezer, but also reflects my ongoing creative partnership with Gary Grice aka The Genius aka “the other GZA.”
Favourite Glasgow curry house: By virtue of the fact that it’s near the hoose but was also, weirdly, an unknown quantity for me before it swung into TATTGOC’s sights, I’m going to say Anarkali. Great food, friendly staff, BYOB, a waiter with a bottle-opening technique even better than Rabbie Shankar’s, and a short stagger home. Perfect.
Second favourite Glasgow curry house: Hard one this. I think Mr India’s Balti and Dosa House does it for me, although I’ve only visited once and was marooned, uncomprehending, amidst a sea of TATTGOC Watchmen chat. Oaft.
Favourite Glasgow curry takeaway: Chillies on Woodlands Road, though I’ve not sampled it since they’ve extended it to include seating.
All-time favourite curry dish: Dear God. It takes me long enough to decide when there’s a menu in front of me but that’s some question. It’s often hard to go wrong with a Jalfrezi (insert manly salute here)
All-time curry idol: Dell Gakhal from The Real Spice of Life caterers. Dell and his sons Kidj and Guv are responsible for me sometimes getting to live off curry for months at a time. Magnificent men, and if you’re passing the Cessnock stretch of Paisley Road look out for their takeaway shop. My curry anti-idol is Edwina Currie.
Rice or naan? Both. At gunpoint, rice.
Favourite curry lager: Something Czech (Pilsner Urquell a favourite) if it’s there; otherwise a Cobra. Nothing against a tall cold Tennent’s either actually. So ... basically anything.
What's the most exotic place you've had a curry? Er, is San Francisco exotic? I thought it was – they had proper American-style steaming manholes and everything. Anyway, the curry was fucking awful. Soggy poppadoms and incredibly greasy food all served in a cheaply decorated but expensively priced “theme” nightmare.
Can you actually make a decent curry yourself at home? I reckon I could have a go but fortunately I’m blessed with a curry-mad SAAG who’s also an excellent cook. So no worries there.
If so, can we all come round for our tea? I’ll just ask ...
What's the story with you owning an American muscle car? Look, it wasn’t a muscle car, right? (Though I wish it had been ...) It was a 1985 Chevy Blazer I bought for a song in California in 2000, with the plan being to drive to New York and flog it there. But as I neared the East Coast I had a nagging feeling that I was quite attached to this motor. So across the Atlantic it came and I drove it about here until 2008, when I flogged it on eBay to a bloke called Pete who drove up through the night from Brighton to collect it. There was an Orange Walk going on when I met him in Govan to pick it up and he was utterly perplexed and mildly terrified. Anyway, he’s going to cut it to bits and turn it into a hot rod or something. In any case, I prefer the bike for hassle-free travel round the town, though I’d advise against cycling to Curry Club. The ride home is the problem. Legality of cycling pished aside, the exertion causes ghee and lager to be pumped round the system at a heart-palpitating rate and isn’t recommended even for hardy TATTGOCers.
(PS: Kat has also thoughtfully provided a picture of my head stuck on top of Borat in the mankini. Just in case, like.)
The Time: December 17, 8.30pm
Booking Name: Mr Werner Herzog
The Pub Aforehand: M J Heraghty's, Pollokshaws Road
In Attendance: Trampy, The Tramp, Rabbie Shankar, Rogan Josh Homme, Jalfrezi, The Gheezer, The Birmingham Wan and The Bulldosa
Decor: Miami Vice-like nitespot.
Expectations: No Clubber appeared to have direct experience of Shimla Pinks beyond the odd takeaway experience – but there were some fearsome reviews online.
'Twas the night afore Christmas
When all through the curryhouse
Not a starter was stirring
Not even a samosa.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, apparently, but Christmas is also a period when social diaries begin to burst at the seams, as everyone turns their thoughts toward getting properly festive at every opportunity. (And “festive”, in this context, obviously means “smashed”.) This planted some cumin seeds of doubts in the Tramps’ buzzing hive mind: would the monthly curry summit be overwhelmed by other commitments? And even if a proper squad was assembled, would the chosen restaurant be overrun by office parties pulling crackers, poppers and each other? Last year, the Curry Club managed to avoid anything too Christmassy by heading to a venue that only really comes alive after midnight. This year, the decision was taken to honour that jolly man in the red suit who lives at the north pole by heading even further south of the river to Pollokshaws, into the neon-and-salmon embrace of Shimla Pinks.
Almost as soon as the venue was announced, some Clubbers cried “foul”. For doesn’t TATTGOC’s hastily assembled mission statement promise to avoid those Glasgow curryhouses that are either “longstanding institutions” or “cannily-marketed chains”? And isn’t Shimla Pinks a chain, with at least one another outlet in Johnstone, and almost an institution, in that most Glasgow folks have heard of it? In their typically gracious and diplomatic manner, the Tramps promptly quashed all disaccord by shouting considerably louder than the dissenters. Clubbers were invited to vote with their feet: if you dinnae fancy one in the Pinks, dinnae turn up to the pub. And so the debate was amiably defused.
In the end, eight fine currynauts braved the elements to assemble in M J Heraghty’s, one of Glasgow’s oldest boozers and one so packed with history and characters – including venerable diarist Jack “The Hat” McLean – it could almost warrant a blog entry in and of itself. Suffice to say it was warm and welcoming, and will likely host some members of the Curry Club again sometime soon. It’s rare that anything occurs on the journey between pub and curryhouse that merits a mention but as the hungry mob ambled up Pollokshaws Road, there was obviously a little Christmas magic in the air, as some cheeky elf had daubed some pertinent graffiti on the side of a recently boarded-up off-licence that seemed like a greeting aimed squarely at TATTGOC’s very own The Gheezer. Luckily, there was also a chance to gather pictorial evidence.
As for Shimla Pinks itself, from the outside it looks the very picture of a modern curryhouse, forgoing the usual traditional accoutrements to focus on clean lines, slick signage and eyecatching marketing posters. Trampy’s heart sank a little. Surely this was exactly the kind of place – part cocktail bar, part restaurant – that would be targeted by massed festive outings? He needn’t have worried: on entering, it rapidly became clear the place was empty. In fact, once the squad had arranged themselves around a central table, it almost looked as if TATTGOC had booked out the entire restaurant to ensure discretion and privacy during their undoubtedly wild shindig. Despite the lack of other customers, the service was a little slow to warm up – although this allowed ample time to marvel at the interior, with many walls decadently splashed with pink, and festooned with Christmas decorations too.
In a little while, though, the first round of pints was ordered and the usual selection of poppadoms and dips requested. Thoughts turned to those who couldn’t make it – notably Sir Spicy Lover, who had been tasked with policing a school disco, and Ravi Peshwari, whose musical commitments with The Invisible Republic had unfortunately clashed with TATTGOC. While the team chomped down on their ’doms, The Tramp efficiently lined up a spread of pakora, samosa and tandoori platters. When the dishes arrived and were placed down, it looked as if one end of the table would be favoured with the tastiest tandoori bites – but in an uncharacteristic display of peace on Earth and goodwill to all men, the platters were smoothly rotated so each member got an opportunity to sample everything. After some fair-to-middling starter experiences in the past few months, this one was declared extremely satisfactory.
Then came the first surprise of the evening. With Jalfrezi, one of the babies of TATTGOC, about to hit 30, the Tramps had prepared a special gift for him. In the early months of 2009, Jalfrezi had enlivened a Maryhill expedition by preparing a sign in his flat window, cunningly placed to catch the curry troupe’s eye as they soldiered past. It read, simply, “Jalfrezi Salutes You” (you can relive the moment here). In a reciprocal mark of respect, TATTGOC had prepared a special T-shirt to be manufactured with the slogan “Curry Club Salutes Me”, in striking red and yellow. Jalfrezi seemed generally moved when he revealed his birthday gift, and immediately wriggled inside it. Much manly saluting ensued.
These hijinx preluded the arrival of the main courses, a selection of lamb and chicken curries that were as boldly coloured as the décor, and wafting tantalising odours to boot. The Tramp had originally worked out the naan/rice equation to be something like three naans and three rice. Immediately, it seemed clear that Shimla Pinks's tiny bowls of rice would not be sufficient, so a top-up bowl was requested. If the lack of rice was slightly disappointing, it was more than made up for by the generously proportioned naan. None of your pre-cut nonsense here either; they arrived, still steaming from the oven, in their natural billowing form, soon to be torn asunder by eager hands. The curries appeared to get a thumbs-up all round, with Trampy particularly impressed by his lamb sharabi. Perhaps he felt a certain kinship as this dish is, like himself, generously marinaded in whisky.
During the customary silence as TATTGOC chows down, some other parties had entered, creating a sense of atmos over and above the seasonal music being piped in. As the membership’s progress slowed, the second surprise of the evening was unveiled: a festive lucky dip, where each member would be encouraged to rummage in the Tramps’ sack. The Bulldosa was first to roll up his sleeve, and he came away with a self-improvement DVD: John Thomson’s Red-Hot Poker (2 discs!). The Birmingham Wan was next, withdrawing some strange torch tool with inbuilt spirit level, which would undoubtedly aid him in his engineering work. Rogan Josh Homme, perhaps thinking of Peter Duncan’s gruesome fate in Flash Gordon, was in and out in a flash, clutching a box of chocolate Brazils (The Gheezer, similarly, scored some jellied fruit).
Grinning Jalfrezi continued his run of luck by claiming the largest mystery prize, which turned out to be a Michael Jackson calendar (“100% Unofficial”) that could also be pressed into service as a mask. Of all the mystery gifts, however, it was Rabbie Shankar’s furry reindeer harness that caught the most attention, perhaps because its extended red nose looked alarmingly similar to a gimp ball. Although it took some effort to remove the fake antlers from Shankar’s head, this terrifying masque was soon being passed around the entire table. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to look like a grotesque reindeer. This might explain why there are very few pictures of the food, yet dozens of TATTGOC currynauts gurning with fuzzy horns.
By this time, the jig was most definitely up. Perhaps because of Jalfrezi’s distinctive T-shirt, one of the waiters was keen to know more about Curry Club. Trampy, usually the loudmouthed communications expert, leaned back casually in his chair, allowing Jalfrezi, The Gheezer, Rabbie Shankar and Rogan Josh Homme to deal with a rapid-fire line of questioning about the Club and its aims. Do we take the piss out of curryhouses online? No, they replied. We sort of take the piss out of ourselves.
As the fairly reasonable bill arrived, accompanied by a glass of jellybeans, the very last of TATTGOC’s Christmas surprises was sprung. This was an extra present for The Bulldosa, a man whose commitment to TATTGOC could never be questioned, although he invariably radiates a sense that he could organise things better than the pair o’ bams nominally in charge. So that was his gift: The Bulldosa would be given short-term executive powers to arrange and execute TATTGOC’s January meet-up, in any way he saw fit. To his credit, he seemed genuinely excited. And what better way to start a new year than with a new regime? But would The Bulldosa be a benevolent balti ruler or ruthless dansak dictator? Pinochet? Chavez? Kinnock? Not long to find out ...
Range Of Drinks: Tennent’s and Cobra on draught, and a vast array of spirits. Cocktails probably wouldn’t be out of the question either.
Highlights: Distinctive décor; decent main courses made even better by awesome naans.
Lowlights: Lugubrious service initially; teeny tiny rice portions.
The Verdict: A suitably seasonal experience!
The Damage: £185.00 (tip: £23.00)