By Nury Vittachi
Warning: the following posting is extremely controversial and may result in rioting, looting of embassies, or international tension between nuclear powers. Or it just may make you feel hungry.
Whatever. You have been warned.
First, many thanks to all the readers who wrote to me about curry. Clearly this is a subject of the utmost importance, unlike trivialities such as the world financial crisis or global warming.
West-east versions of curry have a long history, readers said. "English curry, a yellow-brown gloopy substance eked out with raisins and sugar, was on my grammar school menu in 1953," wrote Neil Thomson from Australia. And Jane Austen mentions curry in Mansfield Park, first published in 1812, he added.
But the saddest letter came from curry-loving British tourist Sam Yeung who visited India last year. "It was amazing. There was almost nothing on the menu in any restaurant that I recognized. No balti curries, no chicken tikka masala, and not one of the waiters knew what a vindaloo was," he said.
I can see that the time has come to tell the whole truth.
None of the popular international curries are from India.
Those "Indian curry houses" that you see in every town in Britain are not Indian at all. The vast majority of them (in 1998 it was 85 per cent) are Bangladeshi. Staff come from a specific district of Bangladesh. Sylhet in the northeast of that country actually specializes in breeding British curry house waiters.
Another myth: Vindaloo is a super-hot Indian curry.
Fact: Vindaloo is not Indian. It's Portuguese. Sailors from that country arrived at the Indian city of Goa with a pork dish called vinha d'alhos, which means wine and garlic stew. The natives, filled with pity for people living on bland European food, fixed the recipe and shortened vinha d'alhos to vindaloo.
The Portuguese agreed that the revised version was way better than the original and spread it around the world.
But it wasn't good enough for India. Even today, asking for vindaloo outside Goa produces a diagonal head-sway, which is an Indian body-language for: "I don't know what you're talking about, idiot foreigner."
Myth three: The top Indian curry dish is chicken tikka masala.
Fact: it’s not Indian at all, but from Glasgow in Scotland. A drunken Scotsman ordered chicken tikka (a dry dish) instead of chicken curry (a wet dish) and demanded that curry sauce be poured over it.
Brits particularly like an Indian dish called balti.
But there's no such food in India. Bangladeshi restaurateurs in the British city of Birmingham started serving food in tiny iron woks so they could serve less and charge more. Having no word for wok, they called it balti (bucket) curry. Believing this to be an exotic import, UK diners went crazy for it.
The result is that vast numbers of British tourists go to India and have the following conversation.
"I'd like a balti curry please."
"You want a bucket curry?"
"A balti curry."
"Yes sir. Would you like your bucket on the bone or off the bone? Mild, medium or hot?"
Several readers said their families discovered authentic curry thanks to products from an Indian goods export firm called Sharwoods.
Actually, Sharwood's products come from the north of England and the company was started by a man named Jim.
You may now riot.