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British Expat Newsletter:
6 June 2007

Hello, and welcome to those who have joined up since our last newsletter.

In this issue

  • This week: Tandoori
  • Virtual Snacks
  • Bizarre Searches
  • Quotation and joke

This week

One of the tastes of home that many Brits pine for when they’re overseas is tandoori cooking. But how many of us give any thought to what’s actually involved?

The word “tandoori” simply means “cooked in a tandoor”, a tandoor being a clay oven in which food is cooked at high temperature (often getting as high as 400 degrees Celsius, or 750 degrees Fahrenheit) over a charcoal fire. It’s one of the most ancient forms of cooking, with a history of over 5,000 years in the Indus and Ganges Valleys, although similar ovens have also been found around the Gulf and even as far away as Armenia.

Tandoori cuisine has particularly strong associations with the Punjab, partly for religious reasons. When Guru Nanak founded Sikhism, one of the key concepts was the idea that all people should eat together, doing away with all caste restrictions. Guru Nanak urged every lane to set up a common tandoor – an obvious way of economising and thus enabling everyone, even poorer families, to have access to an oven for cooking bread and meat.

Tandoors can be built either above ground or sunk into the ground. The underground ones retain heat better – an important consideration when the temperature has to be maintained and fuel is short. (Unfortunately, they’re also a common source of accidents; tandoors left uncovered and unattended are frequently the cause of children’s deaths throughout South Asia.) Earthenware tandoors fuelled with charcoal are still the most popular form of tandoor in South Asia, although it’s possible to buy metal ones too, as well as ovens heated by gas or electricity, and you can even buy small electric ones which are more like a table-top grill than anything else. But the earthenware ones are regarded as the best, even if they’re more complicated to set up – the clay has to be cured (coated with green leaves and rubbed with buttermilk, oil and salt) to prevent bread from sticking to the walls, and then heated up gently the first couple of days it’s fired.

One particular quirk about tandoori cooking is that any meat to be cooked in the tandoor has to be tender. Because of the heat, anything which hasn’t been tenderised first becomes tough and chewy. So marinating has become a crucial part of the tandoori experience. Yoghurt is, naturally, high up on the list of popular marinade ingredients, but others include lemon juice, raw pineapple, tamarind, raw papaya and even pomegranate seeds!

However, it’s the spices that most people associate with tandoori meat – particularly the ones that give the meat its distinctive colouring. The famous pink-red colour of the meat in your chicken tikka sandwich was originally from cayenne pepper powder or chilli powder, though these days it’s more likely to be from food colouring. The bright yellow-orange colour that you see on some tandoori meats is most probably caused by turmeric; if it’s saffron, then you’ve been splashing out on the gourmet version. (Saffron’s hugely expensive – it retails at over £1,000 a kilo in the West.) Either way, be careful not to get it on your clothes!

Interestingly, for several centuries the tandoor was rarely used for meat at all, in India at least – its main use was for cooking bread. And what fantastic bread, too! It’s almost unthinkable these days to go into a curry house in the UK and order a curry without at least one naan bread to go with it. In some countries, though, the naan’s not just an integral part of the meal – it’s a plate for it, too.

Mind you, now that they’re fashionable in the West they’re not cheap. You’re looking at about £2 for a plain naan in many UK restaurants. Contrast that with my old local tandoor down the end of the road in Peshawar, where you’d get them for a penny a shot.

All the more reason to consider making your own tandoor, perhaps – see our Virtual Snacks below if you’re interested…

Do you have anything to say about this topic? Or do you have some suggestions for other issues we might discuss in our weekly email? Why not comment and tell us?

Virtual Snacks

Just a few suggestions if you have a little time to spare:

Fancy building a tandoor oven of your own? Here’s [obsolete link deleted] of how they did it, using the “making it up as we go along” method – mistakes and all.  I quite fancy having a go!  (But only if Dave does the building work.)

Here’s another great tandoori site. This one is by a British enthusiast. The more I read, the keener I am for us to get our own tandoor.

Bizarre Searches

Some strange search terms which have led people to visit British Expat recently:

  • colonel mustard oxford busker
  • salzburg attractions crater hitler
  • tattoo norway canada flag
  • eat koala
  • get that man in bed
  • cloning your own pine trees
  • i took the tefl and it didnt work
  • english grammar in the toilet on the toilet
  • chas n dave buy jellied eels
  • tree bark pinky fissured

Till next time…
Happy surfing!

Kay & Dave
Editor & Deputy Editor
British Expat Magazine

Quotation

“Their [the waiters’] eyes sparkled and their pencils flew as she proceeded to eviscerate my wallet – pâté, Whitstable oysters, a sole, filet mignon, and a favourite salad of the Nizam of Hyderabad made of shredded five-pound notes.”

– From The Rising Gorge (1961) by S J Perelman, US humorist and author (1904-79)

Joke

Curry Chart

Here’s this week’s Top Ten:

Poppadum Preach – Madonna

Korma Chameleon – Culture Club

Livin’ Dhal – Cliff Richard

Bhaji Trousers – Madness

Dhansak Queen – Abba

When I Phall In Love – Nat King Cole

Tikka Chance On Me – Abba

You Can’t Curry Love – Diana Ross and the Supremes

It’s Bhuna Hard Days Night – The Beatles

Love Me Tandoor – Elvis Presley

PG Author: Kay McMahon

Kay has been an expat for nearly 30 years. She set up the British Expat website back in early 2000, whilst living in London and missing the expat life. These days she spends much of her time lugging computers and cameras around the world. (Dave gets to deal with all the really heavy stuff.)

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