Saturday, 6 April 2013

Clive, curry and Maugham

Vegetarian Singapore Noodles

For someone who cooks so voluminously and variedly all the time, I struggled for a long time to figure out what was meant by “curry powder” or “Madras”. 

I mean, we are well acquainted with garam/sambar/rasam/goda/ chole/pav bhaji/and what not masalas.But what’s a curry powder? 

Must be garam masala of sorts… I would think.

On one of our first outings in Australia, up the beautiful Dandenong ranges, we ordered what looked like heartwarming homemade curry pasties (curry puffs) in a quaint little restaurant. 

Why are vege options almost always only "curry" or "spinach and ricotta"? 

I expected the curry puffs to have that wonderful garam masala flavour that  curry puffs from Banglore Iyengar Bakery have. 

Instead, they had a distinct taste of sambar with a hint of  - was it saunf (fennel)?

The charming lady who ran the restaurant looked at me in disbelief when asked what the seasoning was – don’t you know- it’s curry powder!

So now we know better – anything that says curry, tastes like sambar (with saunf/anise) okay, I will grudge a whiff of garam masala at times, but I am dogmatic that essentially it is a drab version of sambar powder…

Stereotyping or synecdoche, it’s true that the colonialists took away Indian spices in their myriad fragrant flavours, only to institutionalise them into one generic khaki powder.

But then, it’s quite droll and retributive for an Indian that a tin with the grim and foreboding countenance of bob-wigged Bobby Clive (Clive of India brand curry powder) actually packs a quotidian sambar powder like spice mix….

It’s this very curry powder that makes these stir fried noodles “Singapore”.

Is Somerset Maugham our antidote for Clive?

Vegetarian Singapore Noodles


225g egg noodles (or rice noodles - but you'll have to cook them differently)
2 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp rice vinegar
2  (or more) cups sliced/julienned vegetables (cabbage, carrot, red and green peppers, snow peas, mushroom (reserve some shredded cabbage for garnishing)
2 spring onions, sliced diagonally (reserve some for garnishing)
2 tbs vegetable oil, plus extra for noodles
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp crushed garlic
1 tbsp grated ginger
2 tbs curry powder
1 tsp brown sugar
Crushed dried red chillies/ sliced red chillies - to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh coriander leaves, to garnish

Boil a large pot of water, add salt and a spoon of oil and cook noodles el dente. Drain and refresh with cold water. Keep aside.

Heat the oil in a large wok and add the sliced spring onion, garlic and ginger. Then add the other vegetables one by one according to their cooking times, keep stirring all the time. Add the soy sauce, rice vinegar, brown sugar, pepper, curry powder and continue to stir fry the vegetables for a few seconds and add the sesame oil. Add the noodles now and cook for another minute or so. Check the salt and add per taste.

Serve piping hot garnished with coriander and some of the shredded cabbage and spring onions.

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