Friday, March 19, 2010

How many curries constitute a festival?

Two young curry munchers. Me on the left, sister on the right.

I'm not sure if you know this about me, but I'm a curry muncher from way back when. While my ethnicity if often viewed as either puzzling, exotic or "Chinese" to the un-cosmopolitan children in my primary school, I am in fact of Sri Lankan heritage, and subsequently, curry was poured down my throat for as long as I can remember.

To be fair, I was afforded regular baby food to start off with. Heinz's Apple Gel being an early favourite, a flavour I revisited and purchased regularly for a short period as adult (the possible problems with this act to be a subject for another day). My first taste of curry occurred upon my insistence as I saw my dad chowing down his daily dose of heart burn. I begged to try some (I am told) and was advised against it, my father assuming quite correctly that at two or three years old, I may not be ready to handle one of mum's "devil curries". Alas, he relented and some curry was administered to my awaiting palette to which I responded by screaming, running out the front door and up the footpath, flailing and flapping as though I were on fire.

Perhaps this incident knocked me out for some time because after that I only remember being given rice and curry every goddamned day. If you are a fan of curry yourself, you must think this sounds like a treat, but as much as a bleak meat and three veg might have been in your house, beef curry and creamy potato bored me to tears in mine. Subsequently, meal time was a seemingly endless battle between my mother and me and the torture compounded as I was regularly shown up by my younger sister, aptly named "rubber guts" for her heroics in plate clearing, leaving me shamed at the table.

A plate of Sri Lankan curry and vegetable delights of which I had zero interest in.

Eventually spaghetti with Bolognese sauce from a can was introduced to break things up and how I welcomed it. Aside from the occasional Chinese meal, pizza or the Holy Grail, McDonald's, it was still curry 95% of the time. When I finally had a job, I would buy frozen meals, "just add boiling water" pasta dishes or just bread and avocados. Mum never said I had to buy my own food, but I went ahead and it did it to avoid eating any more bloody curry.

 Now I must make it clear, this is no indictment of my mother's cooking. On the contrary, among her friends and eventually my own, her curry was revered, considered the best among her peer group. I would groan when friends would come over and express an interest in a kitchen trip to inspect the pans on the stove top. I was fine with this until the time Kristen lifted a lid to reveal a fish head with glistening eye staring back at her. She screamed in horror and I screamed out of humiliation as at 15, the idea of appearing to be a member of a family savages was social suicide. A horror I experienced on my own occurred the time I opened to fridge to find a giant tongue on a Styrofoam platter sitting squarely in the middle and poking out at me. For all the meat I once loved before becoming a vegetarian, I flatly refused to eat any tongue or tail when those curries were on offer.

It wasn't always this awful. The curries usually consist of indistinguishable, decent cuts of beef, and now fake soy beef chunks for me.

Eventually, after time out of the curry house and exploring every kinda of food (sans meat) I could, I eventually came back to the curry of my past, and indeed the curry was and still is fantastic. So much did I return to the curry I once shunned, that last year I found myself delighting in a banner I saw on Hollywood Blvd boasting of the 2nd Annual Los Angeles Curry Festival! So many spicy delights to be would assume. After all, how many curries do you suppose constitute a festival?

"With unimaginable curry tastes from around the world!*"

After trying to garner the interest of all the curry fans I knew, sadly no-one was able to accompany me so I proudly strode down to the site of the festival on my own. The festival was supposed to start walking distance from my home, so on a light snack, just enough to sustain my body to the location where I expected to be filled with curry, I headed down on foot.

As I reached Hollywood Blvd, I discovered a parade in progress with all the participants being Thai. As a fan of Thai curry, I had no problem with this, but still, at a curry festival, I hoped to sample wares from across the globe. I continued on, as obviously I lived close to the dead end (or beginning) of the festival.

A random Thai festival, courtesy of Google Images.

Finally some booths appeared before me for Thai tourism and other Thai community projects. This was all very nice and inspiring, but where was the curry? Finally, a couple more blocks down, I saw food...but it was Pad Thai and various other meat dishes I dare not touch...still no curry. Not even a Thai curry.

I then found myself in the heart of Thai Town, a place I usually drive to and know exactly what I want to order at each of my favourite restaurants, only now, each restaurant was brimming with people, making it impossible to get anything to ease my now aching belly.

I proceeded on and found a long lines of people queueing up for a small selection of curry-less Thai options. As I happened upon a parking lot zoned off for beer consumption, I thought this might be the way to go, given my fruitless curry hunt. As I was almost at Hollywood and Western, the end of the curry festival, I decided to head to the finish line to find out once and for all what was going on.

Just as all hope was about lost, I saw some signage about a curry festival and finally came to realise that curry festival was just a small addendum to the Thai festival. Nevertheless, a curry festival had been found and I would test out my expert tongue...or so I thought.

Upon inspecting the small section set aside for the curry festival, I counted no more than FOUR vendors serving curry. FOUR. ONE-TWO-THREE-FOUR. Two of them were Indian and were sharing a tent. Another entrant was serving Jamaican fare, not exactly curry, and the last one I don't even remember. Since I'd had very little Jamaican food in my life, I marched up to the tent to order something. I was then advised that as there was no running water to the curry festival entrants at that time, the health department had closed them down until it was fixed. For the time being, the curry festival was without curry.

Furious, and on the verge of collapse from heat and hunger, I decided to suck it up and get some Pad Thai from the Thai festival. I stood in a line that didn't move for five minutes, so upon the abandonment of that plan, I made the next most sensible step on a hot day and on an empty stomach which was to drink a large amount of beer. I hung out in the makeshift beer garden, alone, bored and hungry (though thankfully now a little drunk) and decided to make one last attempt to procure some curry.

A big thanks to the good people at Singha for not making the day a total loss and providing me with Singha beer and a Singha tank top at inflated prices.

By the time I headed back to the curry "festival" they were back in business and lines were long. There was no way I was waiting to try them all, and the Jamaican line was so long and the people running it so disorganised, that I jumped in the short Indian line, grabbed some Saag Paneer which turned out to be one of the most disappointing Saag Paneers I have ever had the misfortune to experience. I kept forcing it down, mostly because of all I had gone through to get it. Eventually, after consuming just enough to get me home, I tossed the miserable plate into the trash and began the 30 minute trek home in the blazing sun. Upon my return home, as I placed a frozen meal into the microwave, I evaluated my failure of a day, a curry festival without any curry.

I am happy (and rather not surprised) to find no mention of a 2010 Los Angeles Curry Festival listed anywhere.

*"the world" as it was perceived in 418AD
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