Yeeaaargh! It's Time For Khublai Khan's Kurry Klub Khallenge!

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.

– from "Kubla Khan" (1797) by Sammy Coleridge 
 (Or to give him his Curry Club name, Cole-Raj)

A while back, possibly not long after TATTGOC failed to win Scottish Curry Lover(s) Of The Year twice in a row, the Tramps got an interesting email. Essentially, it was a challenge. The venerable Mongolian barbecue restaurant empire Khublai Khan's – which has two outlets, in Edinburgh and Glasgow – got in touch to say they were big fans of the blog. An excellent start. They went on to ask whether the Tramps would consider visiting their Glasgow restaurant. Because even though it wasn't a curryhouse, the modular nature of Mongolian barbecue – where one selects their own combination of meat, veg, spices, sauces and oils to then be cooked up by an expert – means that it's certainly possible to put together something curry-esque. So ... out of Trampy and The Tramp, former joint curry lovers of the year, which spicy titan could create the best curry or approximation thereof? It proved to be an irresistible summons, as if Khan himself had slapped our burly heroes across the face with a chainmail glove. And so, on a balmy summer evening, the Tramps set out for Glasgow's own inner Mongolia, the Merchant City, with Mumbai Me A Pony on hand to act as totally impartial judge, jury and photo-cutioner.

In other words: CHALLENGE ACCEPTED.


(Click here for the full Mongolian journey ...)

Trampy liked to think he might have an advantage over his old chum, having visited the Edinburgh outlet of Khublai Khan's in the dim and distant past – something like 14 years ago! That particularly uproarious group buffet outing had stuck in his mind since the hotplate for cooking up the food was styled and metalworked like a decorative shield. Or at least that's how he remembered it. For his part, The Tramp was new to Mongolian cuisine but certainly no stranger to barbecue and, perhaps crucially, actual cooking. Upon invading the Merchant City premises, the Tramps marveled at the deceptively spacious layout, well-suited to entertaining large groups as well as small. Some cosmopolitan diners were already in attendance. There were also balloons.

Duty manager Matt steered our heroes toward their table, talking them through "the deal" – in other words, suggesting strategies to approach the blank culinary canvas calmly, rather than panicking and chucking everything into the bowl at once. Khublai Khan's specialises in utilising interesting and unusual meats – including ostrich, wild boar and baby octopus – and while you can only choose one of these meats per dish (since they all take different times to cook), diners can make return visits to the buffet to fine-tune their own recipes or try something completely new. "Feel free to experiment," explained Matt, encouragingly.


But before all the freeform, kamikaze craziness of turning the Tramps loose on a galley full of ingredients, there was the small matter of starters (included in the "Mongolian feast" option). In conference with Mumbai Me A Pony, the Tramps went for Chi Sin (kangaroo haggis), Pak Loi (sweet and spicy lamb) and Khoor Shoor (cumin-flavoured minced wild boar). As they waited for the starters to arrive, all three pored over the paper placemat that doubled as a buffet menu, with suggested formulas of spices, oils and sauces to create tasty dishes. The Tramps had agreed to start off with the most curry-esque selections from these recommendations, but found themselves drawn to such inspired creations as Massive Mongolian Munch and Kani Mak Mi Swally It. Before they could agree on their first salvos, the starters arrived – and as the plates were discreetly passed around and consumed, all three agreed that while the lamb and boar were good, the kangaroo haggis was something very special. Strewth!


With all the "Let's go to the hop!" jokes out of the way, it was time for round one of the Khublai Khan's Kurry Klub Khallenge. This involved heading for the actual barbecue area, a place of inviting smells, populous ingredients and amusing signs. Trampy had chosen Bobby's Bum Buster, a spicy prescription featuring lots of crushed chillis, cumin and some Thai seasonings, which he put together with onions, peppers and springbok meat, as well as rice. For his part, The Tramp went for the Ruby Khan, with cumin, turmeric and curry sauce, with a dash of mixed veg and mixed game (rabbits and the like). After piling up the varied ingredients into their individual karahi bowls, the Tramps deposited them at the barbecue staging area, where a quicksilver chef was overseeing various meals-in-progress. Thanks to a magnetic token system, the Tramps (and Mumbai Me A Pony) could return to their table, safe in the knowledge their personalised creation would be delivered to them when it was ready. It didn't take long, and soon they were chowing down on a very special dish; even if they hadn't technically cooked it, they could certainly be described as its architect. The Tramps agreed that both the curry-esque recipe recommendations had worked reasonably well. But this was the equivalent of colouring within the lines. Time for round two, where the Tramps would unleash their creativity by invoking their own personal curry inventions!


To be fair, once you've seen the selection of meats at Khublai Khan's, there must always be a temptation to return to the hotplate, just to try something you've never nibbled before (a nearby sign apologised for crocodile not being currently available). Tempted though he was to base his competitive dish around baby octopus, Trampy stuck to the basics – rice, onions and venison, spicing it up with cumin, turmeric, coriander, garlic, chillies, curry sauce and some additional chilli sauce as well. He felt quietly confident. The Tramp took the hump by opting for camel as the meat basis for his dish ("Because I hate camels ..."), augmented by rice, onion and red pepper. Spicewise, he added cumin, turmeric, coriander, black pepper, ginger, garlic and more chillies than any other ingredient. But then he also threw in his throwback-English-curry secret weapon: sultanas! (Also ensuring that Trampy would never taste it.) The tension could have been cut with a butter knife as the pair waited for their individual curry champion dishes to arrive at their table. This was the moment of truth. Which would be judged the best by Mumbai Me A Pony?

The Tramps themselves had the first taste, and while both enacted a shadowplay of intense enjoyment to try and psyche out their opponent, it was clear to Trampy that something had gone wrong. What had he missed? All the spices were there but ... had he remembered to put in ginger? Aaargh! After a chopstickful of each competing dish, Mumbai Me A Pony deliberated, cogitated and digested ... and eventually declared The Tramp to be the creator of the superior curry simulacrum. But if Trampy felt bitter disappointment, he disguised it well by scoffing the remainder of his creation in record time. Sure, The Tramp was the official victor ... but they'd also agreed that the last round would be a no-strings-attached, no-judging free-for-all, the equivalent of the ten minutes of mucking about you got at the end of a school swimming lesson. Free of curry constraints, free of societal norms, free of morality itself, the Tramps hustled back to the hotplate area with the intention of creating nothing less than transgressive art. Bring on the baby octopus!

Though it wasn't technically judged, this last round was most likely a draw, with all participants taking things to the limit. Much like Jackson Pollock awaking from a three-day drunk to discover he had created a bespeckled masterpiece with no memory of how he actually did it, these dishes were as transcendental as they were arguably counterintuitive. Stuffed, sated and elated, the Tramps agreed that their mini-trip to Mongolia had been a most enjoyable experience. A big part of that was the winning Khublai Khan sense of humour – detectable in the menus, posters and their Twitter feed – that genially complemented the ingredients and excellent service. When, halfway through Mumbai Me A Pony's tense curry judging decision, a voice purporting to be nothing less than the reincarnation of Khan himself boomed over the PA to announce that it was someone's birthday, it simply added to the atmosphere. All in all, what a night! But now: time for bed.

Khan-Do Attitude: Trampy, Matt and The Tramp
Then Matt came over. "Aren't you going back again?" he asked, innocently. Nope, replied the Tramps. We may be grand patrons but we're not gluttons, and three visits seems like a fair shake of the whip. "Fair enough," said Matt, with just the right amount of implied disillusionment. "I just expected more from Glasgow's finest curry blog ..." The Tramps exchanged a meaningful glance and, instinctively understanding its meaning, Mumbai Me A Pony arched her eyebrows in anticipation of the foolishness to come. As if on cue, the Tramps pushed back their chairs in unison, adjusted their stones, and marched back to buffet battle ...

THE DEETS:
Khublai Khan's
26 Candleriggs
Merchant City
Glasgow
G1 1LD

PHONE: 0141 552 5646

WEB: www.khublaikhan.co.uk

QUOTE: "Why do you speak to me of the stones? It is only the arch that matters to me." – Khublai Khan

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