Ah, the kind of memories food evokes!
Many winters ago, a group us sat huddled in a cold kitchen in one of England’s metropolitan boroughs. It was a quiet evening at the student accommodation because many of the occupants were away on a Christmas break. We were seven international students left to entertain ourselves – K, a lively young man from Japan, the reticent H, also from Japan, his feisty girlfriend, M, from Gujarat (ah, the Patels! where can you not find one?) , R, a hookah loving romantic from Syria (he once compared my acne ridden face with the moon. I thought he was being nice until I read that the moon’s surface is cratered) and S, the oldest in our group, an English guy secretly frustrated with his bachelor status. It was a lovely group, a right mix of multiculturalism.
Although we lived in one of England’s busiest uni cities, our christmas vacation turned out to be a lonely one. For some of us, the only highlight of the season was seeing snow for the first time. Times were hard, part-time jobs were few and our wallets light, so even if we pooled in there was nowhere we could afford to go as a group. So we decided to celebrate in a manner that would not upset our stringent budgets – we decided on a pot luck meal. It was going to be our very own international christmas dinner.
But for any plan to ever succeed in the history of mankind, there needs to be atleast one wet blanket to dampen (I smell a pun, do ya?) the mood – in our case, it turned out to be the English guy. S said he couldn’t cook. So it was decided he would bring the wine.
M & I, were also cooking-challenged at that time, but that did not deter us from bringing one signature dish of our country. So while the Japanese went shopping for ingredients, M & I raided M’s freezer and found a packet of microwaveable paneer curry. We ripped it open and made a great fuss in transferring its contents (not missing a drop, because times were hard, sigh) onto a lovely bowl.
I don’t remember much of the evening that followed except that it was lovely in every way. I remember R letting us take a few drags from his hookah, everyone complimenting us on the awesome paneer curry, all of us dancing to Kajra Re till our feet hurt…..but it was the Japanese who actually stole the show. With their fantabulicious (did I just invent a word? Ah, the things food does to you!) fried chicken.
I tried asking K more about it, and he told me it was called Chicken Karage. But I thought I knew the Japanese well enough, so I went back to my apartment and googled for Chicken Kalage. No luck. Anyways, back then my interest in food was limited to eating not cooking, so I never bothered to ask K about it again.
Fast forward four years. Four Christmases had come and gone with two spent at home in India acquiring domestic skills.
Occasionally, I would think about the dinner and the wonderful times we shared. My memory of the kickass fried chicken had not faded a bit, but I never caught on its spelling and with google recipes for Japanese fried chicken outnumbering pebbles on the beach (whattey comparison…R’s face: moon cannot hold a candle to my google recipes: pebbles), there was no way I could find the right one.
So it was sheer serendipity that I found this recipe while browsing the Rasa Malaysia site some weeks back.
So all’s well, innit? Before you think I’m going to try the recipe out and get all gluttony and nostalgic, here’s a little trivia you ought to know: There’s this man who’s been refusing to get off my back for years. They call him Mister Murphy.
Well what’s that to do with chicken karaage, you ask? The Chicken Karaage episode is just another case in point to illustrate Mr.Murphy’s work in my life, because I found the recipe exactly a year after I turned vegetarian.
In the background: Newton Faulkner – Dream catch me