The Adventures Of Alan: The Curry House Gamble
By Alan Hancock
Illustration by Peter Clayton
My knowledge of Indian cuisine is shockingly poor I’m ashamed to say. It’s not that my ignorance is through a lack of will to understand, it’s rather that in hailing from Minehead, my exposure to authentic Indian food is somewhat limited to the Alcombe Tandoori and, unsurprisingly, I’m not really a big player in the football-curry-pub scene.
In fact, for me, going for a curry is something almost exclusively reserved for special occasions, something I do so infrequently that there’s still a sense of novelty about it.
When someone asks “shall we go for a curry?” it’s in a tone that suggests it’s an unprecedented meal suggestion so positively left field in nature it’s like your mate just asked if you fancied taking part in dressage for Llamas over the weekend. Incidentally, the answer to both would always be a resounding yes.
Now, all I know for certain when we get there is that, come what may, I’m having a garlic naan. That’s safe, I’m going home with that. When I’m actually handed the menu, it’s overwhelming. I’ve handled enough Indian menus in my time to know that I’m effectively going to spend the first thirty minutes and three Cobras baffled by the vast array of choices and combinations available.
I’m always equal parts impressed and bamboozled by the signature dishes with fantastically exotic names like “Tiger By The River” or “Emperor’s Choice” and the discussion around how much heat people can handle. There is always one amongst you who will inevitably overplay their hand through misplaced bravado and spend their meal crying their way through a potent Vindaloo; red faced and sweating buckets with both their pint and their “safety pint” drained immediately.
But for me, I can never decide, which is why I leave it up to fate. In other words, I gamble.
That’s right. The Curry House Gamble. Every time. When the waiter comes to me I’ll simply point at random to something on the menu and that’s me set for the evening. When ordering is done and people ask “Alan, what are you having?” my answer is “I’m having I don’t know. With rice.”
In fairness, it’s not really a gamble because, with Indian food, you’re hardly likely to lose are you? I can only recall two occasions where I gambled and lost. One was where I ordered a butter chicken but somehow specified that my chicken be replaced with tofu resulting in the squeakiest curry I’ve ever had and the second time I ordered a dish called “slay the dragon” during which the dragon ended up slaying me.
Of course, the Curry House Gamble doesn’t do much to enlighten one about the names of things and it’s not for the faint of heart. I’m not going to sit here and encourage curry gambling; if you can’t handle your spices, play it safe, people. But, you should know that I rarely order the same thing twice and I’m exposed to all manner of flavours that I may not have consciously chosen and that is where you win big. I’m not going to say I’m a pioneering taker of risks, that would be arrogant but if people choose to describe me as a curry maverick or a bhaji bad boy, I won’t argue with that.