Maharajah, Moscow by Makhni Knife
Greetings, comrades! For we are comrades, are we not? A brotherhood forged in blood, iron, and fire, like hot meat and spices in a tandoor? Admittedly, some of us are more equal than others, and certain recalcitrant members of our party have dared to suggest that the present system more closely resembles a dictatorship, in which all power resides with twin despots Trotsky and The Trot. Without naming names, it any coincidence that the most vocal proponent of this view was recently dispatched to “London”, and nothing more has since been heard from him? And with that conspicuous disappearance in mind, this foreign curryspondent does not intend to question his orders. There now follows a report on the activities of the Maharajah in Moscow, as investigated by a minimal detachment of two field operatives – myself (Makhni Knife), and the Korma Chameleon.
Our working knowledge of the Russian capital being limited to the satanical location-hopping of The Master And Margarita, and the pell-mell auto-carnage of Jason Bourne’s brief but memorable visit, we arrived to find our accommodations within walking distance of the city’s most reputable curryhouse. It was duly noted that “reputation” is often a highly suspect gauge of quality, especially in a country not renowned for its warmth toward ethnic outsiders and their native cuisines.
Or perhaps we had misread the signs as our train pulled into Kursky station, and the swastikas we saw carved into the trees of a public park were actually intended to welcome Hindu immigrants with the ancient tantric symbol of auspiciousness – as opposed to the off-putting Nazi version? As every member knows, the only prejudice acceptable to Curry Club is a healthy discrimination against inferior scran …
Zealous, alert, and scowling with intensity, we made our way through the heavy Moscow rain to the doorway of the Maharaja, half-hidden as it was in a basement on an empty residential street. Inside was a sudden, almost jarring burst of colour and pleasantry – brightly-painted murals, waitresses in saris, and wide, un-Russian smiles. “Ya nye gavaryu pa Russki,” I warned the staff, having practiced this phrase almost to perfection, so that natives were often baffled, as an Englishman might be to hear a foreigner say: “I’m terribly sorry, old chap, but I don’t speak the lingo.” As it happened, this was exactly the kind of polite, plummy English spoken by our waiter, who introduced himself as Rabinder.
A recent arrival from Bangalore, Rabinder was 40 days into a two-year contract at the restaurant, and said he found the Muscovites to be “pretty friendly so far”, though most of the regular customers tended to be unusually well-travelled and outward-looking. “Some of them have even been to Bangalore,” he told us. It was Friday night, but fairly quiet, and he gave us our pick of tables. The menu was a short list of authentic Indian standards – Lamb Vindaloo, Chicken Pasanda, etc – at jacked-up Russian prices that only an oil oligarch could describe as “reasonable”.
It was 220 roubles, or about £5, for a small bottle of Kingfisher. Over 500 for a plate of pilau rice. Though unschooled in the Byzantine mechanics of the country’s political corruption, we had no doubt that Vladmir Putin was somehow putting his cold, grey, fishy hand in our pockets again. Rabinder did his best to get us back on side, asking us how spicy we would like our chosen dishes (Aloo Gobi for the Korma Chameleon, an inevitable Maharajah Murg Makhni for your curryspondent).
“Spicy!” we ejaculated, and spicy they were. The Chameleon was nonetheless disappointed to find her Gobi almost entirely lacking in the promised potatoes. “Kartoffel?” she spat, re-reading the menu. “More like kart-fuck-all.” A vulgar pun, to be sure, but sufficiently witty to tickle the belly of a certain club co-founder. The butter naan, meanwhile, was a little flat but tasted home-made, and the hyper-pricey pilau rice wasn’t bad despite looking like grated supermarket cheddar.
A few bottles of the cheaper local Baltika beer nudged the meal a little closer to what we had been dreaming of on our long way across Siberia. And while we ate, a small, pale Russian girl danced happily around our table in a bright green sari and ruby red shoes. Though she was almost certainly real – or at least it seemed to us that the other diners could see her too – she also served a fairly obvious symbolic purpose, as if invented by a drunken novelist. This babushka of multi-culturalism reminded us again that curry is the only true currency, which spreads its own kind of wealth wherever it is accepted. As we filled up with Indian food, we also swelled with that great and historic Russian weakness: sentimentality.
The Damage: A brutal 2385 roubles, or almost £70 between two.
The Verdict: A pricy but heartwarming experience in a cold, harsh city!
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