Over the past couple of years, I have been very fortunate to have visited and filmed in quite a few countries. All have been very different, and my next trip to India was to be no different. Wasn’t quite sure what to expect. My wife certainly loved it when she cycled there a couple of years ago. However, she did say that the cities are so overcrowded that it makes London look like a country village.
On this trip, I was accompanied by an Indian chef and patron of The Star of India, Reza Mahammad. He also cooks on ITV’s This Morning, but it was the first time we would film together.
The premise of the week-long trip was to highlight three main curry dishes that are very popular here in the UK. Jalfrezi, Chicken Tikka Masala, and Vindaloo. We would be looking at the specific area, history, culture and cooking the original recipe with local chefs. Then on our return to the UK, we would then travel to 3 key places famous for these dishes. Apparently, chicken tikka masala was invented in Glasgow; Newcastle is the hot spot for Vindaloo and Brick Lane for jalfrezi.
So it was a late pick up to Heathrow terminal 3. There I met up with Christina (director), Rhian (assistant producer), Geraint (cameraman) and soundman Rich from my Israel and Namibian trips. We were to fly overnight to Delhi, some 8 hours. So after checking in and sorting all the camera and sound kit, it was pretty much let’s get on the plane, apart from a swift pint.
Jet Airways (yes, I have never heard of them) were pretty good. The newish plane, lovely staff and they were very attentive. Dinner was okay, straight to the point. The plane was full of a group of women cycling across India for a cancer charity. We did not all sit together due to the late booking (we could not get visas in time). Reza was in his element, being surrounded by said girls. Mind you, he can talk and is very entertaining. Before long, the lights were going out, and we all settled down for a good kip. I slept reasonably well; in fact, it was quite good, only being woken by a rather portly Indian gentleman with a chronic snoring problem.
Breakfast is the normal dismal affair, under-ripe, ice-cold fruit, tepid, awful coffee with bloody whitener and rock hard rolls.
We land okay, slightly bleary-eyed but happy to be in India. The temperature is a cool 30C, and it’s only 7.30 am. We are held up with customs checking the kit and finally make it through to meet our two fixers. As we are waiting, we have a Costa Coffee Cappuccino, yes even here in Delhi. Too hot, but not too bad.
We pack all the luggage into a small minibus and head off into downtown Delhi to the hotel. The traffic and people get steadily worse. Thousands of people packed into busses, tuk-tuks, pedal cycle tuk-tuks, cars and bikes. There seems to be no road rules. I ask our fixer if you have to pass a driving test. He replies yes. I then ask him why, as there seems to be no rules, including driving into head-on traffic. He smiles and wobbles his head from side to side. It reminds me of a scene from the 70’s series ‘It Ain’t Half Hot mum.’
Some hours later, we arrive t the Oberoi Hotel. It’s an impressive place, teaming with staff. A real tranquil place set in all that mayhem. Security is rigorous here, after the Mumbai bombings a couple of years ago. We are scanned airport-style before entering the hotel, so is all the kit. Once inside, it’s stunning, large and spotlessly clean. Every member of staff is impeccably turned out. I try to find fault for my own entertainment, like are the shoes polished, ties straight and hair combed. Not once in my 2 days did I find anything out of place.
We check-in and are shown to our rooms. They are spacious, very clean and well presented. Everything is perfect; my room overlooks the two vast swimming pools. I shower quickly and unpack and meet up with the crew for a late brunch.
The restaurant is airy and smart. The offering is truly amazing, probably the best spread I have ever seen in a hotel. Cold offerings range from sushi to a full buffet, including a superb range of gateau and desserts. The hot section is packed full of every Indian dish you imagine. Reza is suitably impressed, and I ask him to select dishes for me to try. Clove fried chicken, fish tandoori, sharp mustard braised fish is wonderful. Featherlight naan bread is the best I have ever eaten. Paratha, chapati and pooris are all equally as good.
Black-eyed pea and lentil cakes are served with yoghurt and tamarind. Dal is also superb I always reckon that you can tell a good Indian or Bangladeshi restaurant by the quality of its dhal and bread. We all agree that the whole experience is special.
Full and ready to go, we head straight out to film the oldest spice market in the world. We take the minibus as close as we can get, then transfer to pedal cycle tuk-tuk. The traffic is so congested, and it is every man for himself. It becomes apparent fairly quickly that there really are no rules of the road, and I’m surprised we have no accidents. The streets are lined with makeshift stalls selling lime sodas and pakoras. This is also an area to buy a goat; we see plenty. I ask Reza to find out how much one is. 7k is the answer. That’s a bit much, we both agree.
We turn left by the famous landmark, the Red Fort, and slowly make our way down the long road to the market. It seems to take an age. Reza is organizing all the traffic, and he’s hilarious. The fumes from the cars, busses and tuk-tuks are choking. Finally, we arrive, and our driver turns into the top end of the market road. We climb out and survey the hustle and bustle. A policeman is shouting at our driver and whacks him with a stick for entering the market. He remonstrates with him but to no avail. He is whacked a little harder this time and retreats to the main road. I feel a little sorry for him.
Christina decides to film a piece to camera, a big mistake. A large crowd soon gathers. Rhian is brilliant at moving people away. It’s funny when you get a camera out. The Indian’s stand and stare. We struggle to get the shot but finally do. We head off to film spices and some street food. The humid air is thick with pungent spices. Sacks and sacks of chillies. Cloves and the freshest, greenest coriander seed I have ever seen are everywhere. The small shops are heaving with all sorts of spices. Small alleyways are filled with people buying sweets, parathas and dips, all freshly made. A pickpocket feels my radio pack twice. I look round it’s a child of about 9 or 10. His accomplice tries to tell me it was the camera touching me. He slides off, but I see him further down the street, eyeing up the victims. He sees me and disappears into the throng.
Our fixer says we can film from the roof of a local shop. Geraint jumps at the idea. Reza and I film walking shots up and down the street. He camps it up even more; the locals are bemused by him. He engages with them and is charming, and they seem to love him. We finish filming just as the sun is setting, throwing a wonderful glow across Delhi. The air is warm and close but not too hot.
Our poor, beaten driver returns carrying our tripod, and he is a star. He takes us back to the bus. It takes ages, as it’s festival weekend here (more on this later). We are all feeling the jet lag now. But, even in this mayhem, I rest my head against the side of the tuk-tuk and, for a moment, drop off, we all do.
Finally, at the hotel, the air conditioning is a welcome rest bite. The bar beckons, and a ‘mug’ (that’s what they call a pint here) of local lager is swiftly dispatched. A quick shower later, and dinner is served. I eat dhal, prawns and bread, as per lunch delicious. Then, very full and knackered, I head off to bed. The bed is really, really comfortable. The crisp, cool linen is just what you want. You even get a pillow menu here; how cool is that.
Really good sleep, one of those you find it difficult to open your eyes and are conscious that you wake up in the same position you went to sleep in. It’s 9 am. I NEVER sleep until 9. Up showered and downstairs for breakfast. I get a text from my wife; she tells me she is still in Strictly Come Dancing, Jerry Hall was booted out, relief… I order a cappuccino and survey the breakfast offering; again, it’s good. Next, I try a thick, wonderfully fresh perfumed mango yoghurt. Next, idli a steamed rice bun with sambal, rice served with a light saffron and curry potato gravy. All served with a variety of relishes and chutneys; it’s so hard to choose. Bread is cooked to order, as is a potato and cake called Tikki stuffed with tomatoes, onion and coriander. Pumpkin and sweet potato are served in a light sauce with a vegetable called ‘drumstick’, a sort of bean that you suck the seeds from, all absolutely delicious.
My waiter and I chat about cricket and football, then the others arrive. We are all a bit jaded but rejuvenated. They have their fill.
We meet up with our fixers and head out again, this time being Sunday, the traffic is much calmer. It’s quite a shock.
We head towards India Gate to get some GV’s. This imposing monument is India’s equivalent to the Champs-Élysées and commemorates fallen soldiers from the First World War. Locals mill about and are fascinated by our cameras and sound kit. Unfortunately, it’s very hot today and a bit sticky.
We finish and then drive off to find and film in the Garden of 5 senses. On the way, we pass many parks, and they are packed with people playing cricket. It seems that any available space is used for cricket. All ages are represented, from full-blown serious-looking individuals to young kids with nothing apart from a few bricks for stumps and old bits of wood for bats.
After filming in tuk-tuks and checking in with the garden security, we head off to an early lunch at Hareem, a local restaurant. It was very good; Reza seemed impressed with the menu, so we let him order for us in conjunction with the owner and the chef. The food was pretty good and was a cross between Indian and North African, not really what we were here for but nevertheless interesting.
We started with 3 varieties of chicken tikka. Mint marinade, mustard marinade and traditional red. The meat was soft and full of flavour. Next, Kebabs on sticks served in glasses with hummus. Finally, Pathar ka Gosht, a sort of marinated lamb, using dried flowers and served on hot stones (not really for me). This came with a very nice pineapple relish plus a coriander chutney.
Next, fish mojito, white fish steamed in banana leaves, delicious, light and perfectly cooked. All it needed was a squeeze of fresh lime. Accompaniments included jewelled rice Mutanjan Pulao vegetarian rice. This came with onion gravy and raita. The dish is said to be the oldest pulao rice in India. To finish a light, Lebanese baked semolina pudding topped with rich, creamy ice cream all washed down with a delicious iced peach tea.
We film in the garden and shoot various sequences, some very funny. Reza teaches me some Yoga moves, and we all have a good laugh. It’s a warm balmy Sunday. The next stop is the red fort, probably one of Delhi’s most famous landmarks. Unfortunately, we are refused permission to film, so we use the small camera instead and finally get in. It’s a huge beautiful building with some 2km walls and constructed in 1638, so my man informs me. It was primarily built to safeguard the town and to keep out marauders. It’s an impressive place, and we rush to film as the light is fading fast. Finally, we get all the shots we need and move on. Filming is always one big rush.
By the time we get back into the city centre is dark, and we head off to a busy part of town to film Chicken Tikka. We end up at a small row of restaurants in a small car park. The air is full of a wonderful grilling/roasting aroma. Again, you can smell the spice in the air, similar to the spice market, only cooked this time.
The restaurant we are going to taste from and film at was Rajinder Da Dhaba. Again we draw a big crown, and Rhian does a sterling job keeping everybody away and out of shot.
The food looks amazing, but I’m slightly worried about eating warm chicken that has been out in 35C heat for hours on end. They seem to be placing large irons full of half-cooked chicken in and out of the tandoor and just keeping it tepid. Christina handed me a few tissues and said to spit it out after tasting. We film walk-up pieces to camera and then the tasting of the three on offer. They were a green variety flavoured with coriander, green chilli and spices. A Bright yellow one with mustard seeds and pickling spices and a traditional red version with ginger and cardamom. I have to say they all tasted wonderful and fresh, accompanied by a mint chutney and sliced onions and lime.
Reza informs me that tikka was invented for Emperor Mughal Babur because he was fed up with bones in his food and choking on regular occasions. However, I did feel rather embarrassed about the thought of spitting out the food and felt it was not very respectful, so I swallowed and kept my fingers crossed.
We finally get back to the hotel, have a quick shower before another delicious dinner, and go off to bed.
5:30 up…who says filming is glamorous…for a 1-hour 30-minute flight to Mumbai. Geraint is not feeling too well, nor is Christina me. Well, I feel pretty good, still half waiting for the tikka to bite back.
Delhi is calm and cool, quite a change from the previous days, and we get to the airport quickly and say our goodbyes to our fixers. Unfortunately, by the time we get through many security checks, we only have 30 minutes for coffee and water before getting on the plane.
Rich loses his boarding pass and we panic, but we all get on and relax in the end. Well, if you can relax sitting next to Reza…quite by chance, he falls asleep, bliss. I’m woken by him grabbing my arm. ‘Look, Phil, Look, look Mumbai’ I jump and respond, eyes closed….’that’s where we are going, Reza’ he’s all excited love him.
We have a quick coffee and a bite to eat and board the next plane to Goa, another hour or so. This time the plane is fairly empty, so we all relax; Christina, in a full eye mask, gets up. I should have taken a picture.
Our fixer drives us to the hotel; another car takes Christina, Geraint, Matt and Rhian to check out the beach and the restaurant for tomorrow’s cooking. Finally, Rez and I head for lunch at the beautiful Taj Hotel. Wow, the staff are brilliant, so many of them and nothing, nothing is a problem. I’m sure they think Rez and I are partners… amusing…
The crew says that they are not going to be back for lunch, so we order. Tarka dal, fried okra, rice to start. The okra is delicious in a gram batter light and fluffy. Dal is superb, deep flavour the Asafoetida kick I love is perfect. Accompanying crispbreads and super soft naan.
Next, a deep flavoured Goan prawn curry, masala fried kingfish and vegetables with steamed rice.
Full again, the crew turn up and have a bite to eat. Reza and I go for a walk and chat about life and his past and growing up. He is a fascinating man, bright and hilarious. As we get back, it’s getting dark, and I go for a lie down before dinner.
Again it’s brilliant, pilau, spinach and cheese curry, potato with fenugreek, lamb xacuti, crab xel xel (whole) more dal and chicken cafreal is outstanding.
Geraint is still a little weak and has a pizza, worried about more curry!!!!
7:30 rise today, the sun is peeping through the trees, I’m chilly, and then realize I left on the air con…
Downstairs I’m the first one. Reza sweeps into breakfast with a loud ‘Darling…how did you sleep’ and, before I can answer, tells me what to eat for breakfast. So we have boiled eggs with idli (steamed rice buns), cucumber juice, and fruits.
The rest turn up slightly bleary-eyed; everyone seems a bit quiet today. Finally, we pack the van and head off to cook Vindaloo on a lovely beach. We drive for about 45 minutes and end up on a sand track, finally driving out onto a wonderful beach with hardly anybody on it. The view is stunning, and it’s getting very hot now.
We set up the cooking sequence, and with our local chef, Rez and I question him as to the best way to cook probably Goa’s most famous dish. He explains that you need to cook onion with tomato and a dash of water. Next, add a paste of dried, then soaked pulverized red chilli. Peppercorns, cloves, cassia bark, star anise, ginger and garlic are added then mixed well. Finally, the special ingredient, coconut ‘Toddy’ vinegar, gives the dish its depth of favour. The fish, in this case, Grouper, is finely sliced and warmed in the sauce for a few seconds but not overcooked. The end result is spectacular, not too hot but fragrant, light, and with many layers of flavour. It’s very good, and I loved it.
I hop from foot to foot; the sand is so hot, it reminds me of that scene in the film 10 with Dudley Moore running across the sand from towel to towel. We film a few cutaways and then, after a cool drink, hop on the bus and head towards our next filming location.
20 minutes away, we turn off the main road, narrowly missing a chap on his bike ladened with large bundles of something. He doesn’t even flinch, and he keeps going. We trundle down a sandy track and, in the end, a small clearing with a very smart military man, perfectly dressed in uniform. His perfect moustache and hair are immaculate in the searing heat. He salutes us as we enter a small restaurant area. How lovely!!
At this point, I’m told that we are here to film a piece to camera on wait for it Elephants! Yes, one each, how exciting. We are lead up a small jungle track, and they’re right before us. There they are with their keepers.
They are magnificent creatures, one 57 years of age and the other a mere baby at 19. These are proper working elephants and workday in and out carrying various bits and pieces from huge logs to large bundles of leaves and branches.
Our keepers fuss about the elephants to make sure they look good for the camera. But, amazingly, they are completely controlled by sound and the keeper’s feet.
They sit on the neck and legs behind the ears. They are so obedient and even lift their keepers onto their backs using their trunks, then passing a small stick up to them afterwards; it’s such a wonderful sight. We walk up a small bank, and the elephants are manoeuvred into position so that we can alight. All settled and comfortable; we set off with Geriant and Richie running ahead to get the best shots and sound. After a few passing shots, another elephant emerges from the bush, fully ladened with branches. Reza calls it an elephant traffic jam.
We film a few more shots, and then we have to go. So I say goodbye to mine with a large chunk of watermelon, what graceful creatures they are.
Quick drink in the restaurant and off to film in a Portuguese restaurant, as they did bring the dish, including pork and chilli, to India with a local restaurant owner. We arrive he’s not happy and tells us we can’t film, oh dear…Quite by chance our guitar player booked for the film knows another restaurant and another person. We need to get a bit of history regarding how the dish arrived on the Goan shores and how it’s changed. We finally meet up with Margarida famous food writer and restaurant owner. Luckily she had just landed from Germany so helped us out, what a result. By now, we are tired and hungry so have a spot of Vindaloo for lunch. It’s deep flavoured, full of perfumed oil and with wonderful colour, it’s superb, NOTHING like I have had in the UK.
Next filming in tuk-tuks and a piece to camera. Geraint is not happy. They are all over the place, so we get a couple of shots and get back to the hotel for a fresh lime soda. Dinner is delicious, and we flake out once again.
We set off early to get the plane to Calcutta or Kolkata as it’s now known but had to fly to Bangalore first. I will miss Goa, and I really liked it.
It takes a full day, and when we finally arrive, it’s dark, and we are famished.
The streets here are like the others we have seen, busy, bustling. Then, finally, our fixer Paris arrives and is very funny, complete with a 10-gallon hat and Colonel Sanders goatee beard. We chat away and stop and start. It takes well over an hour to get to the hotel, but the Oberoi, sister to the Delhi hotel, is well worth it.
The staff are amazing and so helpful, the manager, George, greets us, and we settle in. It’s a superb building, quiet and peaceful, slap bang in the middle of mayhem.
Dinner is good, but we are all slightly jaded, so we could not really do it justice, coupled with the fact that due to the festivities of Durga Puja, we cannot have any alcohol…Rich is certainly not happy. But with a shower and visit to the minibar, he looks revived and smiley, funny that. I head off to bed, a lovely room and really comfy bed; I sleep really well.
We rise early and breakfast, I’m first, and gradually everybody assembles. We have to be away early as we have lots to film. We wait in reception and wait and wait, nothing no bus no car no call. Christina starts to panic. After a couple of calls, we find out Paris has been rushed into hospital. Oh dear poor chap, his son turns up to fill in and is visibly shaken.
So quickly, we decide to get the cooking sequence out of the way. Our chef is an expert, and setting up takes a few minutes. He explains the history of jalfrezi and how popular it is still in Kolkata. We film a couple of times and get all the shots we need. Of course, Reza is in his element and is camper than usual.
We finally get away from the hotel and with another guide Jeannie. It’s mayhem, manic and crazy busy as we head off to the city centre and the Victoria Monument. It’s so busy and challenging to film. Police are everywhere, and anybody who dares stop too long is swiftly dealt with. Taxis are hit with long wooden sticks, as are tuk-tuks all a bit scary, really. We are then told we cannot film in the monument site so have to film outside under the watchful eye of the old bill. So it’s either the police or the large black crows eating someone’s vomit to look out for. Not sure which is worse. It’s so loud it didn’t make the end film.
Reza gets me a bling carriage (see the film). I refuse to get in it. It’s way to camp for me. Needless to say, Reza LOVES it.
It’s getting dark, so we head straight off to film the festival Durga Puja. This is a huge festival where some 3000 effigy’s of the Durga are constructed over the space of a few days. She is the goddess of divine power against all evils are lovingly built, painted and dressed in the most wonderful clothes. They are then transported from all over Kolkata to the Ganges, where they are slowly lowered in. The followers believe that the spirit will then be taken back to the Himalayas to start all over again. Luckily we just walk straight in as we have a camera. No one questions us, and we get some brilliant footage. There are hundreds if not thousands of people, all in a real frenzy. It’s a very moving sight indeed. A policeman asks us for our permit, Rhian goes through her bag. He gets more persistent and says we can have 5 more minutes. As with all cameramen, we film more and get thrown out. Nevertheless, we have some great footage and also have a good old dance with them!!! I will never forget it!
After that, we head back to the hotel, completely knackered.
Up early and away to film the Ganges in its entire splendour. I photograph many people washing, shaving, and generally having a good time. The weather is glorious, and Reza steers our boat; he’s so excited. As we sail up and down the Ganges, I reflect on our trip, the food we have tasted and the people we have seen and met. All have been really interesting, and nothing like I have expected.
We film in a local market and then head back to the hotel and those immortal words ‘it’s a wrap’.
We all pack and then have a dip in the pool and lunch. Then, quick sleep and just have time to buy a few trinkets for the family and at 5 head off to the airport.
I have learnt so much on this trip and can’t wait to return to the UK and put it all into practice. So Reza and I are now going to go head to head preparing and cooking the 3 dishes we have learned about in India for the great British public.
Jalfrezi in Brick Lane, London, chicken tikka masala in Glasgow, its spiritual home apparently and Newcastle where the hottest vindaloos are eaten and enjoyed.
My thanks to everybody who helped and contributed to the making of these 3 great films. There are too many to thank personally. As Reza would say, ‘How wonderful, darling’.
Back to Blighty: Masala
Delhi was a crazy but fascinating place, and it was quite a shock to get home and then fly up to Glasgow. I have no problem with the place. In fact, I rather like it, but to come from 36C to 6C and raining hard, it’s quite a shock to the system. We flew there to film the second instalment of the strand and meet the son of the founder of chicken tikka masala.
Asif from the Shish Mahal restaurant park road has been here for many years, but his father lays claim to the invention of this national icon. In the seventies, his father was cooking late one night, and a bus driver came in rather late. He ordered a chicken tikka; this was cooked and served straight away. The dish returned to the kitchen some minutes later, and the waiter told Asif’s father that it was dry. Asif’s father at the time was recovering from a stomach ulcer and was eating a tin of soup. Thinking quickly, he placed a fresh chicken tikka into a saucepan and added a tin of the condensed tomato soup, warmed through and served to the delight of the bus driver. Low and behold, this now-famous dish had been invented!!!
I’m not too sure if he is right or wrong, but it does sound very plausible. But I’m sure there will be somebody who disagrees entirely. But enough of that, we now have to cook our own versions of chicken tikka masala and go head to head to see who will win over the great British public. So I’ve taken on board what we have seen in Delhi, plus what I have gleaned from my good friend.
I’m going to go the old method and use a can of tomato soup in a retro style. Reza is a wonderful cook, and I’m sure he works up another fragrant, deep flavoured masterpiece, but I wonder if I can win this time.
We film the cooking sequence and get or dishes ready. As I thought, Reza’s is a wonderful dish, but he is heartbroken about the consistency of his sauce. Hey, I may have a chance here. He takes it very seriously indeed and takes out all his chicken and remakes the sauce. I remind him it’s only a bit of fun.
We set up in Buchanan street right under the Donald Dewar statue, and it’s really hammering down. So Hannah sets off to try and get the builders on a huge site to take an early lunch, as the noise is pretty loud.
The food is cooked, and we start to serve. It goes very well for Reza, and he takes a flying lead. I claw few servings back, but his orange voting disc bowl is rapidly emptying. The overall feeling is that the Glaswegians seem to love a hot curry. Mine was just not hot enough, plus it had too much acidity from the marinade.
Suffice to say, I got a real kicking, and my Indian friend took the honours again. It was thoroughly well deserved, and I bow to his expertise. Next and final time, I have to win. It’s Vindaloo time, and we are off to Newcastle, the part of the country where the hottest curries are eaten. So, hot it is, but with a nod to the lovely fragrance that we experienced in Goa.
Reza's Chicken Tikka Masala
Back to Blighty: Jalfrezi
We had an exciting trip to Kolkata. The place was amazing, and we had some fabulous food. Chef Anchuman had not only cooked us a delicious jalfrezi but also gave us a little history about the UK’s no one curry at present. I was very interested to learn that Jalfrezi is broken down into Jal for hot or spicy and fresh meaning, frying or cooking. The story goes way back to the days of the Raj when British families employed mainly Bangladeshi cooks. The Brits loved a roast on Sunday and being very frugal. The cooks would not waste a thing. So any leftover meat was quickly stir-fried with peppers, onions, spices and a thick tomato sauce and served. In fact, when the chef cooked for us, he used cooked chicken tikka as the main ingredient. It was quite different from any jalfrezi I have tasted in the UK. In fact, I would go as far as to say that any of the dishes we have tasted in India have been very different.
So, with all this in mind, I set off and research a little more, hoping to get one step ahead of my learned friend. First, I plan to make a really thick tomato, spicy sauce, and then add red onions and sautéed peppers, all three colours and keep it quite dry.
Brick Lane is home to one of the largest Bangladeshi communities in the UK. We meet up at Café Naz to meet Mukim Ahmed and Stephen Gomez, resident chef, to chat about how jalfrezi has changed over the years. They explain that it has not changed that much. The only real thing was that there seems to be a healthier side to the dish. However, it’s still fragrant and well-liked in the restaurant selling many portions weekly.
With all this in mind, we go head to head, and Reza is using turkey. I’m sticking to the traditional chicken, again from what I had seen in India. I push on and get my spices going. Adding tomatoes and peppers, looking pretty good. Reza is using more spices and fresh tomatoes; they both smell divine. We taste each other’s and declare a draw. He has the knack for getting such flavour from his ingredients; his turkey is soft and tasty.
We decamp to Spitalfields Market to set up the taste test with the public. It all starts quite well. But again, people are expecting more spice. Reza camps it all up and engages many people, but then it’s all pretty even at the halfway stage. More and more people taste and soon we are out. The final count says that Rezza wins by 4 votes, so very close indeed.
It just shows that we Brits like our spices, and it seems to be the hotter, the better. Oh well, there is always next time.
Serves: 4 persons
Preparation time:- 30 minutes.
Cooking time:- 15 minutes.
REZA’S TURKEY JALFREZI
Back In Newcastle: Vindaloo
I arrive at King’s Cross in plenty and time and find my seat. There is something nice about travelling in the middle of the day. The coach is empty and nice and calm. I write up a couple of blogs and relax with a coffee and a sandwich that I have to say is rather good.
The trip is about 3½ hours, and it’s a pleasant day, so I relax, but I did get a chance to read the script to find out what we are up to tomorrow.
I get to Newcastle, and it’s dark. Reza is late, and director Christina and Hannah are getting in really late. I get to the hotel and check-in. The room is freezing, but it’s spotless. Sarah receptionist is accommodating and comes to the room to sort out the heating controls. I have a hot bath and warm up.
Matt cameraman calls to say he was here and shall we meet up for a beer. I book a table at a friend’s restaurant for 9.30. I have known the owner of Newcastle’s most famous restaurant, Café 21, for many years. Terry Laybourne, the owner, is a serious cook and is still pumping out great food. So after a couple of beers and getting slightly lost, we find his restaurant.
It’s smart and packed, brilliant for a Monday night. We are welcomed and have a drink. A few minutes later, the man himself turns up; it’s good to see him after so many years. We catch up and josh each other about the old days and the fact that we are now old guys!!! (speak for yourself chap) His menu is very good full of great dishes and sprinkled with some new ideas. I have scallops with cauliflower puree and raisins. It delicious and very well balanced dish. Next a very nice beef tartare with fries, salad and extra spinach.
We all get back to the hotel and crash; I’m knackered. But, I sleep well until the alarm goes off at 6.00. I meet the crew, and we all have a bite to eat and head straight off to our first location, the famous curry restaurant Rupani to film the cooking sequence of our vindaloo. I’m cooking a pork version with vinegar and tomatoes with cloves and coriander. Reza is plumping for a beef version, thicker and with a more beefy flavour.
We have fun and film several times, teasing each other about ingredients and cooking ability. Both dishes turned out well, and they were both thrilled. Rukon, owner of the restaurant and his staff are really helpful. Nothing is too much trouble. I taste his, and he tastes mine, then we agree that it’s going to be close.
We decamp to the precinct and set up the Phil & Reza cooking marquee for the taste test with the good and the great of Newcastle. Once we are happy, the contest begins, and Reza takes a swift lead. I’m a bit worried, but it’s not long before I claw some votes back. A lot of the students of Newcastle seem to like Reza’s due to his chilli kick, and mine for the sweet and sour flavour.
After 1 hour, it’s time to count the votes, and it’s really close. In fact, it couldn’t get any closer. It’s a draw, yes, 42 votes each!
We film the ending a couple of times and have pictures with the public. It’s the best turnout we have had from the public. The Newcastle folk really do like their curries hot and certainly lives up to the title of enjoying the hottest in Britain.
We head back to the restaurant to interview Rukon about his hottest dish.
The interview is over, and we finally get a chance to try the hottest curry in the world (according to him). We taste…there is nothing for a few seconds then bang! The heat not only burns my mouth but my lips too. My nose starts to run, and I can feel the veins pumping in my neck. It gets hotter, and I gulp down a Lassi Reza thankfully had made earlier in preparation for the event. It’s so hot it’s not pleasant, and I cannot understand why people do it. I quiz Rukon on how many people eat this dish a week. He explains that about 30 people a week with only 10 completely finishing the dish. Why am I not surprised? If you eat the lot, you get it free, a certificate and named on their website in the aptly named ‘Hall of Flame’ I reckon you should get a free trip to casualty to get your stomach pumped out. We end and have a laugh, then pack up and say our goodbyes.
It’s the end of another great series, and I wonder if the boy and I will do some other stuff together. That would be fun, but where do we go?
This series has been a good one for me as I have never been to India. My knowledge of Indian food was pretty good, but I had no idea how vast the subject was. So cooking jalfrezi in Kolkata, Vindaloo in Goa, and chicken tikka masala in Delhi has been a real privilege, and going with a master like Reza has been a once in a while lifetime experience; I’m a lucky bloke.
REZA’S BEEF VINDALOO