Discovering the Durban curry

Nov 25 2012, 01:18 IST
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SummaryIf how Italian food conquered the world with simple pizzas and pastas, or how entire countries were turned into fast-food nations by burger-selling corporations are fascinating food stories.

We all know of UK’s chicken tikka masala. But here is another, equally popular NRI curry whose popularity cuts across racial lines and whose familiar yet totally different flavours may rev up your South African experience

If how Italian food conquered the world with simple pizzas and pastas, or how entire countries were turned into fast-food nations by burger-selling corporations are fascinating food stories. An account no less compelling is the curry chronicles. Today the curry is enjoying renewed popularity globally. But long before Indian cuisine got trendy, the curry had already taken over large parts of the world. We know of the chicken tikka masala, often touted as UK’s national dish, and the myths associated with its origins. But a lesser known curry with an equally widespread appeal cutting across racial and national boundaries is the “Durban curry”.

I was in South Africa recently in the bustling eastern port town of Durban, not your usual touristy stopover, but special to Indians because of its Gandhi connection as well as the fact that this city has the maximum number of people of Indian origin anywhere in the world outside India. One of my most flavourful discoveries there was, well, the Durban curry— dubbed South Africa’s national dish, which defines its popularity. Thandi is one of the prettiest Durban restaurants at the Fairmont Zimbali Lodge in a scenic gated community off the main town. And it is well-known for its weekly curry buffets. Chefs Yugewdran Ramsay and Seelan Naidoo of Indian origin have introduced some of their family recipes on the menu and it is a learning experience for me to try and decipher how the Durban curry in all its avatars is different from what we have in India. You can taste the flavours of both Africa and India in a single bowl.The generic Durban curry is generally hotter thana most of its Indian counterparts (more red chillies), has more tomatoes (souring agent of choice rather than yoghurt) and has spice notes of cinnamon, cumin, fennel, ginger and garlic among other things. But variations of the recipe abound and vary from restaurant to restaurant, from family to family and one cook to the other. This is primarily because different spice combinations in different proportions are used. In fact, at Durban’s Victoria street market, I see mounds of spices (both African and Indian, retailed by Indian-origin traders) and various pre-made curry mixes

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