Wednesday, July 7, 2010

For the Last Time, Curry Is Not a Spice

Posted By on July 7, 2010, 4:05 PM

Today's excellent Trib story by Kathy Stephenson, "Ten Things You'll Find on an Indian Lunch Buffet" -- about the India Fusion restaurant in West Jordan -- addresses two issues that are near and dear to my heart: Indian food and all-you-can-eat lunch buffets.

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The irresistible appeal of Indian food lies not only in the sophisticated complexity of its flavors, but also in its endless variety -- a good meal at an Indian restaurant includes several entrées, shared family-style, along with many different side-dishes. (And don't forget a couple Kingfisher or Taj Mahal lagers to help cool the palate!)

In the evenings, everything is typically served a la carte -- and the prices add up surprisingly quickly. Luckily, Indian spices have a mild, agreeably intoxicating effect, so when the check comes, you'll be too pleasantly buzzed to quibble over who ordered the chutney.

But, as Stephenson notes, noontime Indian buffets are a cost-effective way to get one's fill of all kinds of wonderful delicacies from naan and kurma to raita and tikka masala. (Oddly, saag -- whose inventor deserves a Nobel Prize for discovering the only known method of making cooked spinach taste better than raw spinach -- didn't make the list. Neither did pakora, nor those addictive lime and mango pickles.)

In Stephenson's story, everything goes along just fine until we hit No. 4: "Other curries: Any number of gravy-based dishes that contain meat, vegetables and a blend of spices, one of which is usually curry" [emphasis added].

This is a pet peeve: The false idea that there exists a spice known as "curry."

Sure, jars of curry powder are readily available in the spice section of the local supermarket. These contain a blend of spices -- typically including turmeric, fenugreek, cumin, chili powder, coriander seed and a bunch of other yummy things.

But "nay," you may say! "I've seen curry plants on sale at my local garden center! Fie, fie, you Big Gay Blog, for spreading misinformation!" (I assume if you're a person who actually says "nay," you might as well also say "fie" -- which means I'm free to bandy about archaic words as well.)

Forsooth, these weird little plants onshelf at Home Depot are not spices at all, but herbs -- and they're misleading anyway. I once saw a variety of sage marketed as a "curry plant," while Helichrysum italicum and Murraya koenigii evidently both share that moniker. The latter may actually be used in Indian cooking, but on its own will never constitute anything known as "curry." From what I understand, Indian chefs typically use a whole palette of spices charmingly contained in a box called a "masala dabba."

(Incidentally, I'm fascinated by the way the new Trib website seems to generate URLs from random words in the story. For this story about Indian food, the words are "chicken salt teaspoon minutes." For another story about a woman who allegedly Photoshopped the face of her daughter's Facebook frenemy into gross animal porn, the words are "stark girl fliers daughter.")

Brandon's Big Gay Blog



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