From Our Foreign Curryspondent ... Dateline: Tokushima!

(The TATTGOC brotherhood extends around the globe, and we welcome reports of curry expeditions beyond Glasgow – in this bulletin, Tikka Mabaws files a spicy dispatch from Japan, a country he knows well ... although circumstances have changed considerably since his last visit. Read on!)

Masala in Tokushima, Japan

Your Curryspondent: Tikka Mabaws

Booking Name: Di O'Betic

The Pub Aforehand: For reasons detailed below, there wasn't one.

Decor: Cheap, cheerful and probably Indian enough for most Japanese punters.

In Attendance: Tikka Mabaws, Phall From Grace

Expectations: Death. Certain death.

As TATTGOC's self-appointed chief foreign curryspondent, I haven't filed anywhere near enough reports recently, but that doesn't mean I haven't been eating – or at least thinking about eating – curry. I was going to tell you about Anokaa in Salisbury, which served perhaps the best Indian I’ve ever had, even though it was barely Indian food, but that was OK because it was still delicious, and how the owners have another Indian restaurant with a Michelin star in London and how given the standard in Salisbury, that was no surprise, even though they let a table magician in, but even that was OK too because he was brilliant.

When that didn’t happen, I was going to tell you about an another, altogether different experience in Tajikistan, about how in this extremely strange and remote town called Khoroug, where too many people had the same green eyes, there was a curry shop and how, all things considered, it was pretty good. But three posh English boys interrupted my note-taking and I didn’t get the chance.

I resolved instead to make a mad dash to “the best Indian restaurant in Bristol”, the Koh-I-Noor, to quickly file a report before I moved away from that crusty little town. I was going to tell you how the waiter explained what Koh-I-Noor actually means and how good their Uzbek kebab was, but I had a few pints too many and forgot to take proper notes or pictures.

So instead, you’re getting this report from Tokushima, a little-visited prefecture in Japan, where, finally, circumstances have allowed me to give my curry munching the proper journalistic focus it deserves. Before that, though, you should know that sometime between this and my last curryspondence, my bloody pancreas resigned from its duties. It’s currently sitting in my belly somewhere, sucking up my blood and oxygen and doing nothing in return, the filthy benefit scrounger of my internal organs. In other words, I was recently diagnosed as being type one diabetic and this Tokushima meal was my first curry since getting that rotten news.

Controlling diabetes is a bit like controlling a hot air balloon: sometimes you need to put insulin into your body, sometimes you need to boost your blood sugar, and sometimes everyone dies, screaming in terror. In any case, you’re aiming for a smooth ride. After a meal, the goal is to test your blood and come back with a score under 10 somethings per something (it’s a new diagnosis, OK?). Learning what causes sudden spikes or drops in blood sugar is a damned tricky business, but it’s more or less safe to say that along with sweet things, white, starchy foods provoke a pretty strong, negative reaction. So, naan breads, rice – things like that are likely to give me trouble. Their wholemeal, brown, alternatives should cause less bother, but I’m yet to find an Indian restaurant serving either, or indeed one that champions healthy eating generally.

The rules of diabetes are less clear on what happens when you eat a neon green naan, which was one of the options served in Masala. A small chain found only on the island of Shikoku, Phall From Grace and I decided to visit the Masala franchise above Tokushima City’s train station. Most smallish Japanese cities like this have multi-story malls above their stations, populated with departments stores, hundred yen shops (or pound-shops in gaijin speak) and usually a rubbish supermarket. Almost always, one of the floors is reserved exclusively for restaurants, and it was there we found Masala, tucked away in a corner with its little cabinet of dreadful looking waxwork example dishes.

Tussaud Korma, anyone?

Small, under-populated and a little drab, it probably hadn’t completely won-over the locals, but that’s likely because of the spiciness of its food. I remember angry bastard and fellow foreign curryspondent Mahkni Knife bemoaning the lack of fire in most Japanese curries once before (he was eating in one of these forgettable little malls too). Perhaps the owners of Masala read that august report and decided to buck the trend – once you’ve chosen your dish from their limited menu, you can crank the spiciness all the way to 50, even though 10 is rated as “very hot”. Presumably anything above that is reserved for arseholes looking to show off.

Not really knowing what to order, I found my eye draw to the bizarre, Hulk-green naan and plumped for the Larki set, which included that weird bread, a mystery curry (unusually the all-Indian staff spoke fluent Japanese but no English), a small pot of rice, another with a few scraps of lettuce, and some kind of dessert, most of which medical professionals would likely have advise diabetics against. Phall From Grace couldn’t find anything she wanted at all, arguing, quite reasonably, that a Japanese backwater was an unlikely place to find decent Indian fare. Even so, knowing that she would surely starve if she didn’t order something, she eventually opted for a sesame naan and some tandoori chicken. I liked the sound of the latter, so went for a bit of that too, as well as a beer – also my first since being diagnosed. To combat this, I took a stab, quite literally, at six units of insulin being the right amount to cope with my soon-to-be-soaring blood sugar.

The Hulked-out bread ... don't make it naangry

When the food arrived, it was hard not to be overtly underwhelmed. The curry portion was tiny, as was the rice. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Naan Bread was greasy as hell and the tandoori looked like it had been rejected from KFC. Thankfully, though, what the meal lacked in quantity and good looks, it more than made up for in taste. My curry turned out to be prawn and my spice selection of four was warming without being overwhelming.
Meanwhile Phall From Grace’s sesame naan was an absolute revelation – why this isn’t being cooked in every curry house in the land is a mystery. Even the sorry-looking tandoori chicken was kind of delicious.

And the green naan? Well, we never did work out what made it green, but knowing the Japanese it was likely something to do with matcha (powdered green tea). I can’t really describe the taste other than to say it was inoffensive, and nowhere near as good as its sesame equivalent. The Kirin beers (I played it safe with two) felt like a goddamn treat too, despite being one of the blandest Japanese brews around. Drunk on the occasion as much as the peely-wally beer, I also splashed out with two mouthfuls of the strange, gelatinous coconut dessert.

Though the portion control hadn’t been entirely my idea, when I left the restaurant I felt full but not bloated and lethargic as is too often the case after a curry. That felt good, but I knew the real test was still to come. Diabetics should check their blood two hours after eating, so as to gauge how their insulin injection has combatted their meal. I got back to our hotel and found myself nervously clock-watching, waiting for testing time, knowing that a high number would likely end my days as a foreign curryspondent.

As I pricked my finger, bubbled the blood and dipped my little strip, I was resigned to bad news, but five seconds later the score came up – 8.6 … 8.6! Mon the curry!

Proof that TATTGOC is not killing Tikka Mabaws

The Damage: An entirely reasonable ¥2960 (about £20) with no tip, not even the loose ¥40.



Bobo Balti said...

I need to try one of these sesame naans. Sound right up my strasse.

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