Remembering my introduction to Indian food in the UK
Indian restaurants were akin to my local pub for a while. A place frequented often enough that servers knew my name, or at least on nodding terms. That wasn't always the case.
Growing up in the 70's I was familiar with Chinese curry my dad got from the takeaway. But Indian was either a Vesta boil-in-the-bag meal, or some homemade variant with raisins & curry powder.
It wasn't until the next decade or so I ventured into my first Indian Restaurant.
Invited for a "Friday Indian" by Rob & Tony, two of my co-workers, we went to The Polash. It's in Shoeburyness, off the Industrial Estate were we worked.
Surprised at so many different dishes on offer, I can't remember what main dish I ended up with. Small burners got placed on the table, then along came the array of metal bowls & platters—Completely unexpected.
Tasting Bhindi Bhaji (Okra) and Brinjal Bhaji (Aubergine) for the first time has stuck with me. Mango chutney, lime pickle, and poppadoms, become staples of my orders going forward.
This was a fantastic introduction that pretty much every later restaurant had to live up to.
After The Polish I wanted to try one closer to home.
The Surma Valley
While living in Benfleet this was my regular. Located along from the Wimpy, in a parade of shops on my way back from the train station (and pubs).
Here I found my staple starters - Prawn on Puree and Chicken Chaat. They had a delicious Chicken Tikka Massala, so creamy and rich. This was also where I had some of the best Stuffed Paratha and Keema Naan, ever.
I went there so often I would stop in to say hi and have a drink with the staff.
When I moved to Southchurch, Sunu's was already established as having great food. At this point I was very familiar with the standard dishes, but they did offer some new ones—Methi Gosht was one of those and it's a go-to for me now. I also have a vivid memory of gulping at exactly how many chili's were on the Chicken Chili Massala.
Sunu's was the first unlimited Sunday Buffet I tried. We all ended up sleeping away the rest of the afternoon after a visit there.
By the time I lived in the center of Southend I was familiar with a lot of the Indian restaurants & take-aways in the area.
The location of the last pub usually determined where we'd eat that Friday or Saturday night.
Sessions in the Last Post usually meant Keralam or Amina. Sun Rooms or The Fish & Ferkin would see us in the one on York Road (Southend Tandoori, maybe?). An evening in role-playing usually meant delivery from Jonaki. Doing the pub quiz in The Half Crown, Benfleet, meant the Mumtaz Mahal or Benfleet Tandoori.
All different. All delicious.
Without those first three opening my tastebuds, I doubt I'd be willing to try the different cuisines I now enjoy. I do miss the abundance of Indian food back in the UK. Here (in Ohio) you have to search it out and it can be a little expensive. But still delicious.