Curry Lovers, Not Fighters

Hey now, what's this? The merry month of May is looming, and that means the return of the Scottish Curry Awards (now in its third fabulous year). And that means there's only another month or so of voting before the nominees are announced – ahead of the glitzy bash proper on Monday May 10.

Last year, a TATTGOC delegation was invited along to witness the spicy celebration, and what an evening it was: good food, lots of beer and a towering appearance from the then-newly-crowned Miss Scotland herself, Katharine Brown. The awards also raised a great deal of money for its chosen charity, the Scottish Spina Bifida Association, and that can only be a good thing. This year, TATTGOC would like to get even more actively involved in the whole shindig – and what better way to go about it than nominating some Glasgow curry emporiums in the appropriate categories? Hmmm. So if we wanted to suggest someone, how would we go about it?

1) First, we'd go here to download an official nomination form.

2) Then we'd scan the categories to see who we wanted to big up. For example, for Restaurant Of The Year, we might nominate "Anarkali". (If we were less modest, we might also consider "Trampy And The Tramp" for Curry Lover(s) Of The Year.)

3) After making our selection, we'd ponder the "Explain Why?" section of the form, and write in something like "because when we turned up at the Anarkali with a case of beer, they immediately put it in the fridge - and the food was fantastic too". (Or, if we were nominating Trampy and The Tramp as Curry Lover(s) Of The Year, maybe something like "they deserve a degree of recognition for their indefatigable exploration, evaluation and celebration of Glasgow's curry houses, large and small. Also: puns.")

4) Then we'd email the completed form to nominations@lovecurry.info. Or maybe even print it out and post it, since Trampy routinely walks around with some first class stamps in his wallet like he's a granny or something.

5) Bearing in mind that nominations close April 19, we'd probably want to make sure we got our forms in afore then.

And that's that. So ... any suggestions on who you would like to nominate?

From Our Foreign Curryspondent ... Dateline: New York!

(The TATTGOC brotherhood extends around the globe, and we welcome reports of curry expeditions beyond Glasgow – here, our man in the Big Apple scours the island of Manhattan for a sniff of decent spices and finds himself in ... Brick Lane?)

Your Foreign Curryspondent: Martin Jalfrezi

Booking Name: Sonny Wortzik

The Pub Aforehand: As two of our intrepid band of currynauts had flown in from London the previous day, it seemed like a good idea to treat them to an authentic slice of gritty, punk-era New York. Mars Bar is the filthiest dive in the city, renowned for its clientele of Vietnam vets and heroin addicts. It looks utterly out of place on a long-since sterile section of Second Avenue. The last time Martin Jalfrezi was there, a Marine menaced him into buying a book of surprisingly tender handwritten poetry. Franklin D Vindaloosavelt, who lived around the corner in the early 1990s, once walked in on someone shooting up in the toilets. He offered to bring clean needles this time, so that the curry clubbers would not have to share their works. The sign above the door reads: "No Smoking … Crack."

In Attendance: Martin Jalfrezi, Vindaloo Reed, Chapati Smith, Franklin D Vindaloosavelt, Marilyn Monrogan Josh, Saag Aloo-ey Armstrong and Bob Dylan-daloo.

Décor: The Brick Lane Curry House proudly claims that “the next best curry house is across the Atlantic.” A table of trinkets from London, right by the door, tells patrons to expect a meal as British as Chicken Tikka Masala, followed by Earl Grey tea prepared in a bright red pot the shape of a double-decker bus. Only a happy-slap from the waiter on the way in could have made us feel more at home.

Expectations: It is notoriously difficult to find an English naan in New York. Curries tend to be swimming in grease, completely lacking in spice and even, in extreme cases, prepared by Mexicans. Four years living in this culinary desert had created an intense craving for a good Indian – a jones, as Americans say. Excitement ran high, but with some trepidation. Apparently, the place to go is the Bangladeshi quarter of Jackson Heights, in Queens, but no-one fancied spending three hours on the subway. The Murray "Curry" Hill area of Manhattan, on Lexington Avenue between 25th and 40th streets, is known for Southern Indian cuisine of variable quality. Sixth Street, between 1st Avenue and Avenue A, is densely populated with mediocre curry houses catering to tourists and New York University students. For reasons of convenience, we decided to go there, after spending several frustrating hours on Chowhound, Yelp and Citysearch discovering that "the wisdom of crowds" is a recipe for confusion. Could we trust the strangers writing favourable reviews of our chosen restaurant? We would soon find out.

The Experience:

Customers at the Brick Lane Curry House are invited to take the "Phaal Challenge" for a free pint and the honour of being added to the P’Hall Of Fame. The menu warns them that the dish in question is “an excruciatingly hot curry, more pain and sweat than flavour” and requires them to offer a verbal disclaimer that any physical or mental damage that results is entirely self-inflicted.

Our assembled connoisseurs decided not to take them up on the offer, wary of falling into a burning ring of fire the next day – and with their wild and crazy student days long behind them. But it seems that taste buds and testosterone glands were piqued, resulting in a particularly hot order. The Korma police would find no yoghurt, no crushed almonds, indeed no reason to arrest these men.

This is what you get when you mess with us: Lamb Vindaloo, Goat Madras, Lamb Jalfrezi, Chicken Bhuna, Goan Shrimp Curry. The only concessions to metrosexuality were a dish of Saag Paneer, some Raita on the side, and a conversation about the relative merits of PJ Harvey and Joanna Newsom. A starter of lamb chops, vegetable samosas and grilled chunks of chicken breast was devoured in seconds.

From the first bite, it was clear that we had found the Balti that never sleeps. The Lamb Vindaloo had an appropriately fiery aftertaste. The Goat Madras kicked like a mule. Sweating profusely into his napkin, Saag Aloo-ey Armstrong admitted to being “a bit of a perspirer” but gave the food top marks. The fact that the dishes all looked the same was slightly off-putting, but as they were also uniformly spicy and delicious, it mattered little.

The naans were fluffy, the paratha agreeably greasy and sensibly chopped in four to avoid fist fights. Although Martin Jalfrezi urged his companions to guzzle every last drop of masala, there was food left over: a testament to the generous portions.

There being four Englishmen present, Martin Jalfrezi’s Scottish ancestry notwithstanding, a discussion about Britain’s greatest curry cities ensued. It was agreed that London is not a contender and that Brick Lane – the street, the book, the film – is seriously over-rated. Bob Dylan-daloo suggested Leicester. Chapati Smith countered with Bradford. Saag Aloo-ey Armstrong ventured that Birmingham would feel slighted to be left out. Can Glasgow really claim to belong in such exalted company? Over to you, Trampy and The Tramp ...

Range Of Drinks: Kingfisher beers all round, served in large British pint glasses, rather than their smaller American cousins. Not cheap, though, at $8 each. One Mango Lassi, for Marilyn Monrogan Josh.

Highlights: The sheer relief of finding a curry house in New York that doesn’t hold back on the spices.

Lowlights: Tiny little baby wipes in stars’n’stripes packaging, rather than fresh, steaming hot towels. But really, there were no letdowns to speak of.

The Verdict: King of the hill, A-number one, top of the heap.

The Damage: The check did turn out to be something of a raging bill, mainly due to the aforementioned pints and the six million dollar naan - $5 for a paratha is a bit steep. The greenhorn curry clubbers had been informed of the “nae credit cards” policy in advance but to their eternal shame, Vindaloo Reed and Chapati Smith decided to take the cash and split the damage on plastic – “for the miles”.

It came to $286.34 between seven, plus tip. We decided to put in $46 each. So the final total was $322 and the tip a comparatively miserly (by New York standards) $35.66. At current exchange rates, we paid £30.66 a man. Two weeks ago, it would have been £27.87.

I blame Gordon Brown.

Curry Club Close-Up: Some Pilau Talk With Rumpole Of The Balti

Everyone in the Glasgow of Curry brotherhood loves curry – but wouldn't it be intriguing to discover more about the men behind the menu choices? In this occasional Q&A series, we'll be journeying into the curry-obsessed mindpans of prominent members, continuing with TATTGOC's own legal counsel, a man who can somehow balance the scales of justice while wielding the hammer of putative damages.

Name:
Rumpole Of The Balti

How did that nickname come about?
Self-conferred I'm afraid. Someone said I needed a nickname so I came up with a spicy spin on the legal profession. I don't know whether I share any of Rumpole's qualities - maybe give me another five years to turn into a port-soaked Tory.

Favourite Glasgow curry house: Last year's outing to The Village cemented its number one spot in my affections.

Second favourite Glasgow curry house: Does Asia Style count? [Trampy: Just this once.]

Favourite Glasgow curry takeaway: The Wee Curry Shop on Ashton Lane.

All-time favourite curry dish: Mild curry Super Noodles have been a staple part of my diet since the early 1990s. As I've become more sophisticated I've started adding almonds and raisins ...

All-time curry idol: Got to be the "brash and energetic life force" that is Edwina Currie.

Rice or naan? Both, you dumbass.

Favourite curry lager: Lal Toofan

Where's the most exotic place you've had a curry? Tooting High Street

Can you actually make a decent curry yourself at home? See answer to question 5.

If so, can we all come round for our tea? Is that all the members of TATTGOC or all the readers of the blog? Not sure I've enough Super Noodles to feed the worldwide chapter...

If you could enjoy a curry dinner-for-two with anyone, either alive or dead, who would it be? Frederick "Fred" Dibnah MBE

You've kindly offered to help draft a legally binding TATTGOC constitution. Briefly, what sort of principles would you most like to enshrine in such an important document? We could kick of with "recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the curry family, which is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the restaurant." And then we could tag the bit about "no birds" on at the end.

What creature or object would you say best symbolises your personality? For the picture, like? How about a copyright-infringing shot of Teenwolf's Dad?

A fascinating glimpse into a keen legal mind, there. Who will be the next candidate for the TATTGOC Star Test? Stay tuned to find out ...

REVIEW: Super Caley Goes Ballistic ...

Caledonian Brewery (!), Edinburgh

The Time: February 19, 7pm

Booking Name: Mumbai Me A Pony sorted out the whole damn thing.

The Pub Aforehand: There was the opportunity for a quick pint in Thomson’s Bar on Morrison Street for early birds ... but while it seemed a nice enough place, it was absolutely stowed with suits, it being Friday night and all.

In Attendance: Trampy, The Tramp, The Duke, The Bulldosa, Jalfrezi, Rabbie Shankar, Lime Pickle, Ravi Peshwari, Rumpole Of The Balti – plus three Edinburgh greenhorns. (And The Gheezer turned up … eventually.)

Decor: Initially, fairly industrial. Laterally, awesome.

Expectations: As this was a secret mission, no-one really knew what to expect – except for Trampy and The Tramp, who were quietly confident it would all come off OK.

The Experience:

Do you want to know a secret? Do you promise not to tell? That was the premise of TATTGOC’s paradigm-smashing February outing, in which Glasgow’s premier team of curry-consuming mavericks saddled up and rode grimly east. Their target? Edinburgh, Scotland’s shining capital, seat of our national parliament and superficially purty tourist trap. For one month only, this would become Trampy And The Tramp’s Capital Of Curry (TATTCOC). The squad’s mission? Classified. If any member of the team were to be caught or killed, Trampy and The Tramp would disavow any knowledge of their actions.

Like most black ops, the planning was the hard bit. Not with the actual venue itself, as The Tramp’s trusted consort Mumbai Me A Pony organised the whole thing with a minimum of fuss. The real trick was herding the membership of bohemians, radicals, malcontents and nonconformists towards Haymarket station for 6.30pm on a Friday night. Most of the regular chapter turned out, with the sad exceptions of Rogan Josh Homme (unavoidable work commitments) and Sir Spicy Lover (still in the first flush of fatherhood – always a risk when your lovin’ is so spicy). As well as Lime Pickle, three other Edinburgh residents had been gifted the opportunity to add their charcoal sobriquets to the TATTGOC roll of honour: All Tomorrow’s Bhajis, The Poppadominator and My Parpy Dhalentine (Martyn, Edd and Murray to give them their dull civilian names).

Remarkably, despite being unaware of their final destination, the whole crew turned up pretty much on the dot. Curry Club’s elder statesman Rabbie Shankar was running a little late, and time-poor iconoclast The Gheezer was nowhere to be seen, but otherwise there was the full complement of rough-hewn champions. As the darkling eventide caressed our heroes with a feathery hail, The Tramp bellowed brusque marching orders and strode off into the night, beating a determined path toward Gorgie.

What, no pre-curry pub? You’ll have had your Tennent’s? If there was any dissent in the ranks, it had 15 minutes or so to fester, as the march initially appeared to be heading all the way back to Glasgow. But when The Tramp trundled through the gates of Caledonian Brewery on Slateford Road, any grumbling turned to grunts of astonishment. Surely the squad wouldn’t be allowed into an actual brewery? But the team were welcomed like visiting royalty at the security gate – what sorcery was this? Thanks to the remarkable efforts of Mumbai Me A Pony, the rugged currynauts were getting a special tour of the hallowed facility, the birthplace of Caledonian 80/- and Deuchar’s IPA. Such access was an honour beyond regular members of the public. It might just have been the stormy night, but for a second it looked as if a single tear of happiness described a celestial arc down Jalfrezi’s shining cheek.

Welcomed – and sort of calmed down – by the avuncular John, the gobsmacked squad were gently eased into the evening by hearing some of the history of the brewery. The short version? The place has burned down loads o' times, but that hasnae stopped them from making beer. The team were also given a quick ABC in the natural alchemy of brewing. (For an intriguing article about the artisanal brewing scene in the Good Ol' Uncle US Of Stateside, check this out.) When prompted to name the four key ingredients in the brewing process, the TATTCOC hive mind correctly identified water, malt, hops and yeast. Then, after the arrival of Rabbie Shankar, the dirty dozen suited up in fluoro vests and surprisingly stylish baseball cap-style hardhats to continue their pilgrimage. In a working brewery, John explained, gravity did much of the work. The process began on the top floor of the building, and the heavenly product slowly descended to the basement in stages.

The crew toured the malting room and were encouraged to finger hops (apparently some rubes try and smoke the stuff). They stared intently into massive copper tuns and listened attentively as John, a master of his craft, preached the Caledonian way. They gawped at a massive chimney, kept their distance from an ancient well and filled their nostrils with yeasty goodness over stainless steel tanks seething with foamy fermentation. Down, down, down they proceeded through the historic building, until they reached the last stage of the process: the packaging production line.

“Now,” said John. “Does anyone fancy a pint?”

And with that magical invitation, the brewmaster opened an ordinary-looking door that led, Willy Wonka-style, from the absolutely functional factory floor into a discombobulatingly cosy pub. Shucking off their safety gear, the excitable crew crowded round the bar, marvelling at the wide range of bottled and draught products. “Now,” continued John. “Would anyone like to try their hand at pouring a pint?” Pedal-steel maestro Ravi Peshwari was first, so determined to get at the pump that he was still wearing his fluoro safety vest when he enthusiastically gripped it. Lightly guided in compression technique by the ever-patient John, before long Ravi was clutching a creamy pint of the rugby-themed ale Over The Bar, one of Caley’s monthly special brews. Like fish, it apparently tastes all the better if you've yanked it yourself. For his part, Ravi looked genuinely contented.

Other currynauts jostled to try their hand at pulling and The Duke, a former barkeep, seemed particularly at ease coaxing the ambrosial liquid from the pumps, apparently able to pour the perfect pint while staring directly at the camera, a rare skill indeed. Before long, all 12 members of our dirty, bemused dozen had awesome pints clutched in their mitts, and a general air of relaxed bonhomie settled over the crowd, punctuated by the odd near-hysterical laugh: were they really in a secret bunker pub housed beneath a brewery? In terms of possible post-apocalyptic scenarios, this one seemed perhaps the most agreeable. Soon after, The Gheezer breathlessly arrived, and what a sight it must have been: the massed ranks of TATTCOC, casually leaning around their own heavenly howff. Does it get any better?

As it turned out: yes, it does. Just as most of the squad were setting aboot their second pint of the evening, an attractive young woman entered to announce that dinner was ready: a tantalising curry buffet, complete with pakora and tandoori starters, rice and naan. Before long, the massed Curry Club – and honourary member John – were seated, viking-style, along a bench, tucking into the excellent scran. Further questioning revealed that the food had come from nearby restaurant The Verandah and was of such high quality that a standalone visit to that establishment might be on the cards for a future TATTCOC excursion. While everyone was contentedly chowing down, Trampy received a picture message from Sir Spicy Lover – a snap of his young Curry Cub perusing a Shish Mahal menu. You’re never too young to start.

There was obviously more to the evening – an impromptu pool game inspired by Carlito’s Way on the way out, a few post-curry drinks in agreeable local Diggers, a tediously prolonged train journey back to Glasgow – but instead of cataloguing the aftermath let’s linger on the joyful experience. Is it possible to truly isolate a memory, capture it in amber? Clear your head, close your eyes and focus – really imagine yourself in the scene. You are sitting in your own private pub some way underground, cut off from civilisation but surrounded by friends. You feel almost narcotically relaxed. There is an empty plate before you, but you have already visited the buffet twice so feel truly sated. This is your happy place. You are in your happy place. Just one problem. That pint of IPA is down to its last inch. What happens when you finish the IPA? Does this all end? Will draining the draff bring it all crashing down, callously depositing you back in reality? It’s on its last legs, almost done. Then what happens? WHAT HAPPENS?

“Another pint?” says John.

... and all is well.

Range Of Drinks: Caledonian products, but that meant Deuchar’s IPA, Caledonian 80/- and their rugby-themed February beer Over The Bar, all on draught. There was also a Heineken tap and all sorts of other bottles …

Highlights: Hmmm … let me think … what about: THE WHOLE FRICKIN’ EXPERIENCE?

Lowlights: For those travelling back to Glasgow, the 11.33pm from Haymarket turned into the 11.55pm. And was super-crowded and took ages. (Also a bit gassy.)

The Verdict: A mindblowing experience!

The Damage: That’s classified, but the tip was £33.50. Bargain.

A big ol' manly, slightly sweaty TATTGOC thank-you hug to Caledonian Brewery and Mumbai Me A Pony for taking such great care of the Curry Club

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