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A Curry With The Mates

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By James Geneau

A few months  ago, I decided to throw a birthday party for a friend of mine.  Not the biggest of challenges for most people, but I wanted to do something that would be memorable.  Something that might be normal abroad but misunderstood here in Toronto.  I was sitting at home one day going through my e-mails when I received a message from a friend of mine in London.  I don’t know why, but as soon as I thought of London, I immediately remembered a time when I was trolling the streets at 3:00 AM after a night of heavy pub-hopping.  You know, back when all you needed to see the world was a back-pack and a Euro-Pass.  It then hit me.  God I miss those late night London Curries.

Of course.  A curry with friends!  The decision was made.  It’s funny how in Toronto, a city with such a diverse spectrum of dining experiences that the late-night curry has not evolved here.  In London, it is the equivalent of all-day breakfast or late night greasy burgers for drunken partiers.  While the thought of spicy Indian curry might not be on top of mind for most people with a belly full of beer at 3am, it really isn’t about the food as much as it is the experience.  Going for a curry is about sitting with friends, having a good time, and sharing stories as well as dishes.  It is a great way to unwind after a hectic night of partying.

I made reservations at one of my favourite Indian restaurants, Chutneys.  Located on the Kingsway in Etobicoke, the setting was perfect for my “Curry with the Mates” night.  We had a long table and the ten of us crammed ourselves into the tight little restaurant.  We shared stories, laughed at each other’s misfortunes, and filled up on beer.  When it came to ordering, everyone had their favourite dish.  I think this is why I love going for Indian.  Everyone has a favourite and you can be guaranteed that at least three to four dishes will be ordered where someone will ask “What’s in it?”   As a foreigner to the world of Indian cuisine, a curry with friends is magical.  Almost everyone at the table will try something new, debate about how spicy it should be, and be eager to share.

For our meal, we had a wide range of classics including Lamb Vindaloo (Lamb cooked in spicy Goan-style curry, garnished with ginger and coriander), Mutter Pulao (Spiced basmati rice cooked with aromatic spice, saffron, peas and nuts), and Saag Paneer (Cottage cheese cooked with mildly spiced spinach).  In all, we ordered over fifteen different dishes of which two were Saag Paneer.  It was clearly a favourite by the sounds of everyone moaning with pleasure as they scooped it up with their Naan.  The dishes flew around the table with zeal.  What are you eating?  Is it good?  Is it spicy?  Can I try?  What spice is that?  Do you want some more Naan?  When the food arrived, we forgot we were here for a birthday party.  Instead, we were on a journey as friends with each of us discovering at least one new pleasure in life, centered on good food.

I cannot think of another way to connect with people than through good food and drink and going for a Curry is probably the best example of how food can bring people together.  The dishes are designed for sharing.  They are flavourful and foreign.  The food is a topic of discussion whether it is the appearance, texture, taste, or scent.  While these are all characteristics of every other form of cuisine, only while enjoying a Curry with friends does the importance of sharing truly have an impact on the experience.  The food, while just a component of the birthday evening, takes center stage.  As a result, all ten of us bonded as we tried new things, shared some favourites , and laughed at the surprised face of a friend when it was clear they had reached a threshold for their spice tolerance.

So why do we avoid this in North America?  After a long night of drinking with friends, why do the majority of us prefer to sit together and consume our wrapped personalized burgers or slices of greasy pizza in our own little worlds?  We do this with our friends but do we not like to share?  Or have we simply become accustomed to the idea that at 3:00am, food is not so much a continuation of the evening but a closing door?  Even if it is not a Curry with friends, the concept of having a sit-down meal after a night on the town is something we should encourage here in North America.  It is where we share stories, laugh, and build lasting memories.

My Indian birthday party turned out to be an immense hit and certainly one the best birthdays my friend had ever had.  It wasn’t the cake, the presents, or the individual’s birthday.  It was the opportunity for friends to share food and connect with it, and each other.  We still talk about it as friends as one of the better evenings we spent as a group – success!

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