Monday, 11 August 2008


Yesterday, all my spices seemed so far away. Now it looks as though they're here to stay. At least now I've found a top traditional indian convenience store in Agbrigg in Wakefield. The shop might have been pokey but with HUGE bags of spices, rices and nices at stupidly low prices who am I to argue.

So yeah I got all the ingredients I'll ever need to make curries for the rest of my life and all because of and his recent curry postings....wait....what's that ? Yes I know I've only got into curries recently but there is a reason for that. Let me explain....

See, as a child of the 1970's and 80's my palate was one assaulted with bland post war traditional cookings and easy cook branded ready meals. The menu in the Gnomepants house would have been one like some awful greasy spoon. Chips with everything, suspicious cheap mince (avec spinal material) and fish (in the form of fingers) on a Friday. Pies were fattening so they were few and far between and the most exotic thing on the kitchen table was probably spaghetti bolognaise (the garlicless version:- Mince, dried onions, tinned tomatoes, tomato puree and a teaspoon of dried thyme).

I think around 1982 (possibly later) my folks must have been somewhere where they had a curry. I recall one Saturday my olds opening a tin labelled "Marks and Spencers Curried Chicken", heating the contents in a pan and serving it with rice, a selection of sliced fruits (bananas, apples and orange segments) and some sultanas in little dishes. They then proceeded to eat the bizarrely smelling substance with gusto. The pair of them sweating with the spice heat and strained "Yes this is nice. No really." looks on their faces. Such a sight is enough to put anyone off their dinner. I wasn't offered any curry, I had to make do with something with chips. I forget what. Probably offal sausage. Though, not wanting to be left out, I was given a spoonful to sample and I immediately knew that curry was not a nice food, just like beer was not a nice drink. My father would comment about how all Indian food tasted like that and some now probably socially unacceptable comment about Asian culture. Such was the early 80s. Oh how we laughed.

So that meal put me off curries. Even in later life I would scoff at the thought of eating in a curry house "Good god!" I'd exclaim "These people are very odd eating that foul stuff". I would hold curry in the same regard I still hold Marmite (but marmite is poisonous). Spicy foods were shunned and in my early 20s I continued my non-exotic diet of chips with everything (deep fried in lard) and post-rationing treats (sausages, bacon, pies) with the occasional garnish of vegatable (mostly baked beans or peas, rarely carrots). What a terrible diet I had. No wonder I had a heart attack at 29.
When I was living alone in my little flat in Patterdale Road my friend at the time, Min, introduced me to the delights and wonders of kebab. Kebab was the perfect after pub snack. Spicy and foreign it would belie new and exciting journey into food. Min also popped my chinese cherry and took me beyond the realms of Sweet and Sour Chicken and down the dark recesses of crispy duck pancake and chilli beef in black bean sauce. My new found palate was keen to explore. But never curry. Even Min would smirk at the thought of people eating rotten meat disguised with spices. Though that smirk might have just been in mockery of my assumptions that Indian food was rotten meat disguised with spices.

Curry was awful. Even the smell would knock me sick. Though Chinese curry sauce became acceptable. As did Coronation Chicken Sandwiches. Chinese curry was different, wasn't it? And Coronation Chicken was just an interesting spicy mayonnaise. I had a kebab from a different kebab shop where, unbeknownst to me, the donar meat was flavoured with curry powder. I was nearly sick. The kebab was discarded and curry was shunned more.

Then about three or four years ago (I don't know, you might want to check back in my LJ, I'm sure I made a post about it) I went on a night out with and his chums. After several pints it was decided that something was needed to soak up the alcohol. I was hoping an all you can eat chinese restaurant would be selected but you can probably imagine my horror when I learned that the foodery of choice was to be an Indian Curry house. I was mocked by . His chums also smirked at my horror. It was as though these well cultured metropolitan gentlemen had suddenly unearthed a time trapped Neanderthal. My attitude, on reflection, was one of nurture rather than nature.

I seem to remember the waiter at the restaurant guiding me into having a dhansak based on my discussion of Chinese foods. I enjoyed it. Surprisingly I actually enjoyed it. The thoughts of rotten meat disguised by spices and sauces faded. Since then, I have dined in several Indian restaurants and have even partaken in take aways of similar origin. Indeed, delighted as I am with this new found culinary genre I have even bought a book after a recommendation from .

So last night I made a chicken dupazia. It was probably the best curry I've had in a long time. My pantry smells like an international food store with odours of fenugreek, star anise and methi leaves. Over dinner my wife said that my mum and dad would probably enjoy it. To which I scoffed. "Yes, maybe if we served it in a tin labelled "Marks and Spencer" and with little dishes of fruit. Of course this then made me think of how my folks now travel up their road to their friends once a month so that they can dine on curry from a takeaway. I amused myself with thoughts of my mum and dad trying to look cultured and being horrified to discover that curry served with little dishes of fruit is so 1970's.

Bless them.

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Friday, 8 August 2008

Not So Supermarket

Tonight I did something I haven't done in a long while.

I visited a supermarket. Asda in Barnsley to be precise.

Now I know some of you will say "Ah but Stegzy, you go to the Co-Op and the Co-Op is a supermarket!" and some will say "Ah but you were in a supermarket with me the other day". Indeed, this may be the case, but with the Co-Op, they actually pay me to shop there (I get about £12 a year from them) they actually source their non-branded goods from local farms and actually put back into the community what they take out; With the other visit I wasn't actually doing any shopping. OK?

Right, now I've got that clear, I shall continue my tale. So I'd decided that I was going to cook a curry a la and in doing so I required certain ingredients that Co-Op don't stock. Why Co-Op don't stock these things isn't a mystery along the lines of Nazca or the assassination of JFK. It is quite simple. The Co-Op's in Barnsley don't stock certain lines because most people in Barnsley think that bananas are exotic and anything that smells, sounds or looks slightly foreign probably is foreign and should be eyed with suspicion. So because the Co-Ops in Barnsley are bobbins I had to go to a larger supermarket. Tescos, a behemoth of retail and convenience (and we should all by now be aware of the TRUE COST OF CONVENIENCE), is out near Stairfoot and Morrisons (a local supermarket company) tend to sell food that is close to the sell by date (hence why they can sell stuff for less). The convenient choice was therefore Asda and yes probably the least ethical of the three choices.

So I pulled into the already busy car park and parked summoning the will power to break the self conditioning of not shopping in a supermarket. Within ten minutes I found myself entering hell. Hell of people. The Hell of retail, people and consumerism. Conveniently placed at Harbour Hills Roundabout. The sweat on my back from the humid day was joined by an uneasy sweat. The kind of sweat one might get if one suffers from clostro or some other debilitating phobia. Don't get me wrong. I have nothing to fear from supermarkets because I am free from their spell. I know the ways they do their mischief and how they use sneaky psychological tricks to make you, the ordinary person, part with their hard earned cash without realising.

First thing that struck me was the trolleys. In Britain, trolleys tend to escape and return to the rivers from where they spawn. In order to prevent this some supermarket companies chain the trolleys together and these require the shopper to insert a £1 coin to temporarily release the trolley from captivity. Now I don't carry cash. When I've got cash I tend to spend it. Usually on nothing at all. The solution being not to carry cash and to use debit cards instead. Sadly trolleys don't accept Switch or Maestro. So first off you need to part with money to obtain a trolley. Granted, this separation from cash is temporary as, when you return the trolley, you get your £1 back. So if you have no money on you, you can't use a trolley. Fortunately, some years back, I found one of them trolley token things and I keep the fucker in my wallet for such occasions.

So with my trolley, which I could just dump should I want to with no cost to myself, I entered the palace of convenience. The sight that greeted me was one of disgust. The shop is divided into two sections. Clothes, books and "seasonal goods" on one side and the rest on the other. The food, or other side, is in turn split into several sections. Shoppers choosing to ignore the non-foody goods are herded to the suspicious looking fresh fruit, veg and meat of mysterious origin side. This area is close together, people fight over the uniform carrots, trip over the spilled potatoes and wrestle with their bored looking children. A swarm of people foraging, milling about and shoving each other to get to the trough.

Fortunately I didn't require fruit or veg on this visit. I did however require meat. The meat aisles are no better than the fruit and veg aisles. Narrow aisles lined with open faced chillers doing untold damage to the environment and gobbling more energy than if the shoppers had decided to stay at home and wank. Pre-packaged meats on open chilled shelves. Inviting the shopper to partake in "BRITISH FARM STANDARD" meats. Each package gaily adorned with the grinning fizog of some skilfully crafted farmer as if to suggest to the ethically half aware shopper that this meat really is from a farm in Britain. That this man whose face is stickered onto the packaging is the very man that single handedly raised the calf or chick from which the meat didst come. That his "I wouldn't lie to you" face is one of sincerity and one of a benevolent farmer that probably allows his animals to take day trips to Scarborough. Of course this farmer would probably have a farm the size of France if he truly supplied the amount of meat that Asda sell. The sticker also tells the prospective purchaser that the meat (in this case chicken) has been reared "finest quality farm assured". Now does that mean the farm is of the finest quality? Gold shavings for animal bedding, luxurious mangers and 24/7 masseuse on call? Or does it mean fuck all. I think I'll go for the "Fuck all" option and if I was a betting man I'd probably be very wealthy.

I could not see any organic or free range meat. I felt as herded as the very animal I was about to eat. Basically the only choice I had was the package assuring me that the animal was reared by Brian Trusler who, it seems, has some weird fervour and devotion to "rearing the finest quality farm assured chicken". Yet nowhere on the label did it say that the meat was organic. No where did it say that the meat was free-range. I only had Asdas marketing people's say so and I wouldn't trust them to give me next weeks winning lottery numbers. But chicken was needed so a blind eye was turned. I really should go to the opticians about it. It could be glaucoma.

The next thing that struck me was the way the store was laid out. The food things seemed to be on one side; the cleaning things on the other. Healthy options were secreted away and prominence was given to high fat, salt and sugar content foods. Even greater prominence given to Asda Own Brand. The widest aisles, it seems, were those devoted to the slow poisoning of the human body by salt, fat and sugar. The healthy snacks were on display though. But eyes, it seems, are drawn away from these to the less healthy options. Even the bread stuffs. The bread aisle had the loaves of bread on the shelves next to which were doughnuts, cakes and other fatty foods. I could feel my arteries hardening just being in proximity to them. The breakfast cereals, the alcoholic drinks, the frozen goods; all laid out the same. Fat first, health second. A weaker shopper would have no hesitation in succumbing to Asdas witchcraftery.

Worse yet, the children. It seems that tonight was "lets take the children to the supermarket" night. Instead of tying them up outside with the dogs and vagrants, people actually bring their spoilt demanding offspring into the palace of convenience.

Old man - "Put that back Ashzara you'll drop it and you'll be in trouble"
Ashzara - "But I think I like it granddad"

She "thinks" she likes it. She likes it alright. It's full of lovely chemicals, sugar and toxins. Yes granddad, you are poisoning your own granddaughter with your love for her. If you actually cared for the child you'd have left her at home. You already had a trolley full of similar demands. Jelly, cake, crisps. Poor Ashzara, in 4 years time she'll be wondering why her face is spotty and why the boys don't like her.

Then I reached the 5th level of Hell. I espied the tortured souls in the form of those without gorm. Blocking the aisle containing the cook in sauces. Each scrutinising the ingredient label as if to find some half forgotten scripture that might reveal the secret of weight loss, or maybe something really obscure with which to announce their childs latest trendy allergy ("Yes little Johnny is allergic to monosulphurpolyphosphate" "Well my little Jimmy is allergic to tricitricbiphenolicamine"). But not wanting to break from their intense study to allow other shoppers to pass, they just stand there. Trolley blocking the aisle. There faces cracking with concentration as if they are willing the calorific value of Ragu to decrease. Too intent on their quest to even acknowledge anybody else. I was in danger of being trapped by other shopping zombies approaching from behind. Fortunately I am skilled in Trolley-Fu and a quick but sharp ram of my trolley usually results in a shocked look and an apology from those without gorm.

As I approached the 6th level, my ears beheld a sound I had not heard for some time. Not the sound of a thousand score tortured souls, but none other than "Star" by Kiki Dee. Which, I am sure you will agree, is far worse than any assault on the ears. By this time my stress levels had reached biblical proportions. I was feeling violent, sweaty and in danger of causing someone an injury. I had to finish my shopping trip before I ended up in gaol.
Alas, I was still without at least 5 items on my shopping list. Things just weren't where they should be. Spices and herbs were with the milk, yogurt and tinned fruit; Eggs were with the frozen foods; I never located the vinegar, I imagine that would be with the bleach or beauty products. This warren (sorry FJ) of convenience, this trap of hell, this prison of consumerism was in danger of causing me to have severe health problems. I battled my way to the check out. Not even daring to take part in one of the "check your own shit out" tills in case I gave myself an anurism. Dear God. If the woman at the checkout smiled she might have cracked her face. She threw my goods down the conveyor past her infrared scanner without a care then just stood there expectedly. Awaiting payment. I had expected a cheery "That would be £34 please". Instead I got "......". What? Do I just walk out? No? I need to pay. I am a good citizen. I just came to Asda by mistake. Like Barnsley, It seemed like a good idea at the time and now I am paying for it. I shoved my card into the slot and rammed my PIN numbers into the console. The miserable old cow behind the checkout thanked me by presenting me with my receipt and grunted. Maybe they knew I wasn't a force to be reckoned with. Maybe I don't have that "I shop at supermarkets" smell and the staff knew. No doubt they will be sending the comedy inflatable breasted tight fitting PVC catsuited vampiresses after me. I must be prepared.

I got to the carpark. Rolled a cigarette and made a swift departure. But not before I reclaimed my trolley token.

"Never again" I swore.

Until the next time that is.