DERNIER MOT - Curry Cravings
I'm slightly sheepish about admitting to expat food cravings. I love the wonderful cheeses, the succulent fresh produce and the delicious local wines piled high in the market, but there are times, especially Friday nights, when my mouth waters for a good old chicken tikka masala and all the trimmings.
But of course there aren't that many Indian restaurants around our village. In fact, there isn't one for a radius of about 100kms in any direction. Worse, the local supermarket doesn't stock all the ingredients you need to make a decent curry yourself. So we've been trying North African dishes like couscous - or at least, making our very own interpretations of them.
"Looks easy enough," said the SP, gazing at the instructions on the side of the packet. "Just get the kettle on..."
"Yes, but what about the vegetables?"
"Do we have to have vegetables?"
"Yes. In a spicy sauce. With meat on top. Or is it inside?"
Marie-France came to the rescue. "I make my special couscous with merguez sausages," she said. "You just fry them up with some garlic and onions and then you add the vegetables and some tomatoes and..."
"Shouldn't there be lamb in it?"
"At the price you pay for lamb?" exclaimed Marie-France, scandalised.
So we followed her instructions, and it was good. Couscous is child's play: you just pour boiling water over it and leave it to stand for a couple of minutes. And once you've got the hang of it, the vegetable and meat stewy stuff is very nice indeed.
But it isn't curry and it doesn't satisfy a craving for lamb biriani. So having snooped around the internet we equipped ourselves with a selection of cookbooks and studied them carefully. It seemed straightforward; all we needed were the right ingredients. Some of them were easy to find in the shops, but some of them were surprisingly hard. Star anise doesn't seem to have made it down here for example and we have never found any of those nice little jars of cucumber raitha, either.
"You have to ask around," said Joyce, an expat acquaintance from the market (she sells handmade greetings cards). "Get people to bring things over for you. Mango chutney's my passion. We do swapsies."
"So if I find a good source of chutney you might swap me some star anise?"
Joyce's eye lit up and since then it has been plain sailing. On Saturdays, the curry club snoops round the market for spices and other curry-worthy condiments and then we barter and exchange them in the Café Bon Coin. I got a nice big jar of tandoori paste last week in return for some homemade Nan bread, and I've found out that you can buy poppadoms in the giant Carrefour in Montpellier.
So we're all fixed on the curry front, which is good because we've invited Joyce and the gang round next week. There's only one very tiny hiccup and that's explaining this strange addiction to Indian cuisine to Marie-France and Bernadette.
"Why?" she asked, genuinely puzzled. "Why? You have moved to all the way to France, so why do you refuse to immerse yourselves in French food? After all, "la cuisine française" it is the best in the world."
"I don't really know," I said feebly.
"Nonsense," said the SP. "It's a question of heritage. All Brits eat curry!"
"Not le rosbif?"
"Have you seen the price of beef?" he replied.
Marie-France and Bernadette nodded at each other and rolled their eyes. "Bien sûr," they said... "Mais oui!" They understood perfectly.
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