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Time to bring the glories of our cuisine to India?

Byline: Dan O'Neill

News item: Thousands of Indians are returning to their homeland as it becomes an industrial colossus and world power.

Ihave often seen the Taj Mahal by moonlight and it is indeed a beautiful sight to behold. Mind you, the Tandoori Takeaway just down the road also does a great vindaloo, while the Bombay potatoes in the Bengal Star are unbeatable. Yep, we've come a long way since Vesta curry was the ultimate in Asian cuisine - add boiling water and stir.

But why am I salivating over such mouthwatering morsels? Be patient. All will be revealed.

As Italy bequeathed us the Bracchi following the first great wave of 19th-century settlers, so immigrants from the subcontinent a century on added "the Indian" to our high streets. Cawl? Laverbread? No, curry and chips is now our national dish.

Or was. For the thousands of Indian and Bangladeshi restaurants with their billion-pound turnover now offer ever more exotic dishes from tharav sofyani to gustaba and aam achari (look 'em up). What progress since the days when calling for "chicken off the bone" revealed you as a sophisticate and every Indian boasted garish flock wallpaper and pictures of, yes, the Taj Mahal.

The families who founded those restaurants came here to escape the poverty of their homeland when there was work in Wales, when the mills and factories thrived Oop North. But now many of them, mostly professionals, are returning to an India becoming an economic and industrial giant as our economy and industries shrink.

The sort of conditions, in fact, that made Mr and Mrs Patel come to Wales. So is it time for us to do it in reverse and fetch up in Mumbai or Calcutta? Times will be tough at first, as it was for those immigrants. But persevere like they did and then - why, open the first of a chain of Cardiff Caffs, based on the original models, circa 1949.

Someone must have opened the first Indian here. And look what happened. Bonanza.

I can imagine the first Cardiff Caff in Mumbai. Every table covered in chequered oilcloth, pictures of Bleddyn Williams and Jack Matthews along with Fred Keenor on the walls, treacle-thick tea served in huge chipped mugs or Camp Coffee with that uniformed sahib being served by a turbaned batman on the label. Or would that be undiplomatic? To complete the picture, each table would have a bottle of brown sauce with crusted gunge around the neck. Ditto the ketchup. And glass sugar containers with blocked-up spout, meaning you have to unscrew the lid to get at the stuff.

We would soon have an Indian Caff Society, trendies telling each other: "My dear, you simply must visit this new place. Incredible. What a character the owner is."

Yes, there he is, crouched over the grill in grubby vest and grease-stained apron, the ash on his perpetual fag perilously close to falling off into the sizzling rashers. Behind him, the obligatory blackboard with the day's offerings chalked up.

"So different," the opening night customers tell their friends.

"Things you've never heard of.

But you must make the effort and try them."

Bacon butties, sausage sarnies, all-day breakfast, black pudding extra, chips with everything (the soggier the better) and vast wedges of bread to mop up the grease. Well we were a bit suspicious of those first takeaways - "foreign muck," did I hear? - but now they're part of the national fabric. So those Mumbai matrons would soon find it trendy to chomp on chips and bolt down bacon butties, just as we learned to love chicken tikka or biriyani.

It worked for those post-war immigrants, so why not try it over there? But just remember, no beef pies or pasties.

NOW HAVE YOUR SAY Do you agree with Dan? e-mail dan.oneill@walesonline.co.uk BULLINGDON BOYS WORSE THAN RIOTERS LONDON Mayor Boris Johnson blames what he calls "bad schools" for the riots that shocked the country last summer.

So where does that leave his alma mater Eton, home of the restaurant-wrecking, binge-drinking Bullingdon Club of which the blonde bombshell was a prominent member? David Cameron was also a Bullingdon boy, something he doesn't like being reminded of since that notorious photograph of the Club in full gaudy fig dramatically emphasises our leader's privileged place in the world.

I truly believe that the mobs rioting in London had a better excuse for their behaviour than Boris and Dave have for the arrogant anarchy of the Bullingdon mob on the loose - and the lash. And after each outing they simply paid for the damage with hard cash, doubtless out of daddy's allowance. The rioters paid by being jailed.

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* Could this one day become the new national dish of India?
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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Mar 28, 2012
Words:792
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