From Our Foreign Curryspondent: Dateline ... Hong Kong!

(The TATTGOC brotherhood extends around the globe, and we welcome reports of curry expeditions beyond Glasgow – in this bulletin, Makhni Knife files a spicy dispatch from Hong Kong, a belated follow-up to his earlier transmission from Japan that, dear readers, was TATTGOC's FIRST EVER Foreign Curryspondence. S'good to have him back ...)

Branto, Hong Kong by Makhni Knife

Lashings of apologies, distant TATTGOC brothers/cousins/nephews.

This curryspondent has been shamefully remiss in delivering regular dispatches from Asia, while his friend and rival Tikka MaBaws continues to eat and write his way around the world with effortless facility. By way of contrition, there now follows a belated report from that mighty oriental gateway and former jewel of Empire, Hong Kong!

Hong Kong, of course, is the name given to the city, the island, the whole administrative shebang that dangles off the southern end of China.

Close your eyes and picture that luminous, vertiginous skyline, the skyscrapers stacked to the clouds with pink-faced, pink-shirted bankers from the south of England, neo-colonial pigs that haw-hee-haw like donkeys. Then cast those eyes across Victoria Harbour to the dark side of the Pearl River Delta – the Chinese side, if you will. Kowloon! Teeming with tenements and street markets! Home of the fearsome Triads, and setting for double-fisted teahouse gunplay in the films of John Woo! And location of the finest Indian restaurant in the region!

This is, at least, the opinion of Curry Club first-timers MacDhosa (pictured on the TATTGOC roster of missing Curry Comrades) and his wife Thali Mo, experienced gourmands with exacting standards who have spent the last half-decade sampling the pan-global variety offered by Hong Kong’s special cooking pot of cultures and cuisines. Indeed, an earlier visit by Makhni Knife and Rumpole Of The Balti (along with the lovely Mrs Rumpole) yielded an excellent Indian meal at another Kowloon favourite, the splendidly named Gaylord – which was only dismissed as a contender for curryspondence because it’s part of a worldwide chain with branches in London, Bombay, New York, and Kobe, Japan. Decent as the food was, especially when accompanied by live sitar music, it didn’t have the uniqueness required by the TATTGOC constitution, as enshrined by founding fathers Trampy and The Tramp. A nearby institution called Branto promised to be a different story ...

(Click here to continue ...)

Mahkni Knife and the Korma Chameleon accompanied their hosts, and their pals Rick and Rita – newly christened Mr and Mrs Bundy Raita – down a quiet side-street, not far from the legendary babel of cheap electronics that is Chungking Mansions, to find Branto barely signposted on the first floor of a nondescript commercial high-rise. Apparently, the restaurant had recently moved across from Hong Kong Island’s Wan Chai district to secure cheaper rent. The interior was brightly-lit and luridly decorated with food-based murals and sub-continental landscapes. A TV on the wall was screening the latest episode of Indian Idol. A turbaned staff came and went from a kitchen encased in what can only be described as a bright pink bunker.

As soon as our party was seated, talk turned to the question of the pink bunker’s defensive capacity, prompting a series of politically insensitive remarks, beginning with MacDhosa’s off-colour cry of, “Stone me, it’s the Taliban!”, which was repeated ad nauseum throughout the meal. Though Branto had been described in advance as a specifically South Indian establishment, the implications of this had not dawned on Makhni Knife in particular until after he was given a menu that offered neither meat nor alcohol. For one terrible moment of palpable, incipient menace, it seemed as if he might finally carry out his long-standing threat (and lifelong dream) of turning over a table in a busy restaurant. He was literally soothed, however, by the quick-thinking Thali Mo, who promised the best lassi known to humanity. Luckily for her, this claim was soon found to be unexaggerated.

(L-R) Thali Mo, MacDhosa, Mrs and Mr Bundy Raita, Korma Chamelon, your curryspondent
The Korma Chameleon, a committed semi-vegetarian, was rendered more indecisive than usual by a full selection of Punjabi dishes that she might, could, and did want to eat. Perhaps inevitably, almost everything was ordered, on the traditional Asian understanding that each dish would be shared out among the company. Dhosas, paneer pizzas, “chutni sandwiches”, boondi raita, palak peas, daahi puri, and thalis with a kaleidoscopic wheel of dips – chickpea, yellow bean, black pepper – soon occupied every inch of pink linen. “The spices creep up on you,” observed MacDhosa of the exquisite thali dips. “Nothing’s especially hot by itself, but the cumulative effect … ” For Mahkni Knife, this selection proved not just an education, but a veritable epiphany, as he attempted to chew through these delights with his jaw slackened by the very idea that it was possible to eat and enjoy a full Indian banquet that did not contain so much as a shred of butchered animal carcass.

Thali Mo and Bundy Raita, experienced travellers in the region from whence these recipes came, regaled the table with geographically relevant anecdotes, made all the more evocative by the surrounding “art”. The former maintained that she did not miss meat at all in her wanderings through South India, and was happy to take advantage of the odd fact that Tamil authorities prohibit the consumption of alcohol while permitting the sale and use of marijuana. Indeed, she had once dispatched a so-called “bang lassi” at 7am before riding across Pushta on a camel named King, who turned around periodically to spit on her. Bundy, a rum fellow indeed, told of his own experiences under Tamil rule, working for a Geordie ex-pat entrepreneur and smoking enough of the local hashish to consign all memories of his 30s to a now-remote but not unpleasant haze. Even with the whole party sober, the evening began to take on a kind of glow, through which we were all reminded that Curry Club is a truly international enterprise, a fellowship, if you will, which honours curry in and of itself, but also as a means to an end. And that end is: conviviality!

Certainly, we over-ordered, and all plans for a late-night wander through Kowloon, in the hope of witnessing a gangland murder by Chinese chopper (cleavers remain the weapons of choice for self-respecting Triad killers), had to be abandoned due to the dreaded post-curry sluggishness, exacerbated by the unremitting tropical humidity of Hong Kong and its environs. But, as was rightly pointed out by the Korma Chameleon, we would not have been able to manage half as much as we did if all those dishes had been bulked up by meat and drowned in beer. Thus, as we disappeared into the buzzing neon night, we could still muster just enough energy to roundly declare the whole Branto experience another roaring TATTGOC success away from home!

The Damage: A positively magnanimous $676 Hong Kong dollars – less than £9 per head!

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phelan said...

Sweet work with the hyperlinks Trampy. Hadn't actually seen that shootout in ages.

Trampy said...

All part of the service. This table flip was also considered ...