My older brother led me to my first curry house when I was about thirteen or fourteen. He ordered me a mild one and I managed about three mouthfuls before my head felt like it was about to spontaneously combust. Ian, who has always had a good appetite, ate two curries that lunchtime. Sitting opposite, I watched him put away the food with immense respect whilst pouring the contents of the water jug down my burning throat. However, hot food is something you definitely get acclimatised to.
I think I can safely say that over the next fifteen years I probably had at least one or two curries a week. No real surprise that Chicken Tikka Masala has ousted Fish and Chips from its number one spot as the UK's favourite takeaway. However, I never went really hot! I only ever attempted a Madras once and I'd never mess around with a vindaloo or above. I can still remember the particular flavour of the vegetable curry they used to serve at Mother India on Lower Clapton Road, Hackney, where I lived for a number of years. I've tried many times to re-create that taste, got close a few times, but never quite got there.
When we moved out of London to a village in East Sussex in 1987 - just before the hurricane struck - we were horrified to discover that the nearest Indian restaurant was six miles away! And what's more, it turned out to be a pretty mediocre one too!
Flippin' 'eck, this was serious!
Then our friend Anne came to the rescue. She kindly lent us her copy of Indian Cookery by Madhur Jaffrey. Anne (like us) didn't have one of those kitchens where the cookery books are kept in fine pristine condition, and I recall the book was already well-used with a lot of curry stains on its pages. A humorous person by nature, in reference to this she joked that it was a "Scratch and sniff edition!"
Believe me, that book saved our lives!
Eventually, after many months, Anne asked for it back. The book had become such a part of our culinary life that confronted with separation we took the only possible alternative there was to running away from home with it - yes, we bought a copy! Ours wasn't the scratch and sniff edition, however over time it has gradually been converted into one. I've bought other Indian Cookery books over the years but to be honest I've never come across better recipes. The book came out to accompany Madhur Jaffrey's classic series on Indian Cookery for the BBC in 1982. It is a jewel!
Know what? After writing this, I could murder a curry.