x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Curries without borders

Facing up to the fact that curry is by no means exclusively an Indian dish.

What's in a curry? The answer should be simple if you come from a culture that swims in its abundance, but the other day I was taken aback by the Food Network. I used to watch copious amounts of that channel in Canada, even leaving it on as background noise sometimes because I find something very soothing about someone droning on about how to make just the right kind of gnocchi.

That said, in January, the newly formed partnership of Orbit and Showtime called OSN started beaming adverts that said that Food Network was coming to the UAE. Of course, I paid a small fee to upgrade my package. It wasn't the same. The programmes I was used to were not all there, but I still felt comforted by its presence in my living room. Till the day the Iron Chefs battled to impress the judges using the mystery ingredient - curry. I settled in with a smirk to see how these fancy-pants chefs were going to redefine the curry. There was the dry powder base and the wet curry paste. As Alton Brown, the guru of food science, dissected the curry bases, I had to slap my head for being such a smug, presumptive foodie.

The mystery ingredients were green, red and yellow curry pastes. While some of the ingredients used to create them might have been spices shipped from India to South East Asia thousands of years ago, they had, over that time, morphed into their own delightful variations. Unlike the bases I make for Indian curries in my kitchen, where I sometimes painstakingly mix and match spices together, my confidence has never extended to creating a green curry paste from scratch. Apparently it is no more complicated that its distant Indian cousin.

So I watched Masaharu Morimoto compete with Tyson Wong Ophaso, whose roots lay in Thai and Chinese cuisines. Agar agar with curry and carrots, anyone? Or waffles with a dusting of curry powder? There was even an ode to Morimoto's native land, Japan, when he fashioned the golden curry and updated it with the delicious yet expensive cuts of wagyu beef. And to think I had even tried golden curry, a Japanese take on curry and surprisingly not far removed from what one images curry to be. It is subtler and its flavours are enhanced by adding apples and carrots to the broth. But once again, I'd used the cheat sheet there as well.

As battle raged on in the auditorium of the Food Network, I made a promise to myself: that a few secretive attempts in the kitchen with other curry bases would serve to remove my instant association of curry with India.