Sun 23 February 2020

How a misunderstood curry is a metaphor for how we got into the mess of Brexit

“I’d better put some toilet paper in the freezer!”

He and his friends thought it was hilarious; they laughed with that uniquely raucous and well-practiced joy reserved only for those oft-spoken bon mots.

I forced a smile and tried to count the number of times I had had to deal with such reactions to my suggestion that I cook a Pork Belly Vindaloo. Their guffaws continued to ring in my ears as I walked away…

Whoever first marketed the notion of the Vindaloo to a British curry- consuming clientele fundamentally failed in conveying the concept of this curry with any sort of conviction.

  • Norma Desmond.
  • James Dean.
  • Jedward.
  • And Vindaloo.

What do they all have in common? They were, are and probably always will be totally, utterly and completely misunderstood. Just like BREXIT.

For those of you wondering, yes, you are about to read a piece paralleling a spicy, sweet astringent Portuguese-inspired pork curry with the political, economical and cultural Golgotha that will inevitably follow our departure from the European Union. (The one thing you CAN’T say is that you are tired of reading another column about curry and constitutional crisis).

Given the sophisticated, urbane and well-travelled readership of Byline Times, I have no doubt there is a constituency, albeit small and perfectly formed, that will have tried a genuine vindaloo.

The truth-seeking Byliners, whilst enjoying the sun-kissed sands of gorgeous Goa, will have sought a more fulfilling truth about the enclave of a sub-continent renowned for eastern mysticism and the subsequent self-finding.

With the ocean behind and adventure ahead those wishing to discover a more authentic Goan experience will have travelled inland and found one of the numerous road-side shacks, inhabited by hungry locals, almost tourist-free. There, they will have suspended disbelief and ordered the pork vindaloo.

(It’s worth noting that Goa is one of the few parts of India where pork is readily available to eat. A quarter of the population are Christian, a ten-fold increase on the average number of India’s vibrant Christian contingent. This can be explained by an almost half millennium of Portuguese rule, a rule ended in 1961 when the Indian Army annexed the province having lost hope in the colonial rulers ever negotiating a “hand-back”).

As the balminess of the evening cools and soothes, thoughts of British curry house concoctions feel like a universe away. And while no one can blame you for taking a moment to gather yourself and steel your soul before spooning a sensational serving of sweet, astringent, tomato-thick and deeply spiced pork into your mouth, your preconceptions will unravel and your steel will become silk.

The mouth puckering, trademark astringency of a vindaloo comes from the vinegar that forms the masala. It is thought that the original version the Portuguese incomers had was wine-based, but given the lack of interest that many Indians have for alcohol, the wine was replaced with vinegar. And just as wine releases a gamut of surprising flavours when cooked down and reduced, so does vinegar.

I won’t pretend that this dish isn’t spicy hot; it is, but not in that macho, beer slurping, point-proving way we seem to have adopted in the UK.

While we watch and wait, and wait and watch we hope against hope that there might be a politician prepared to tell the truth, an elected representative with a head higher than a parapet, prepared to tell us the truth about the inexorable car crash that’s coming. Fuelled by lies and delusion, xenophobia and misplaced fear we must strive to bring back truth, honesty and integrity to our journalism. And our curry houses.

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