About Town: The chicken tikka edition

My memories of previous encounters with Indian cuisine are not exactly fond. The last time – an impromptu appearance at a leaving do for an Indian expat from work – I ended up tossing and turning through the night, tormented both bodily and mentally by masala dosa. Thanks to that, and my well documented lack of adventure when it comes to food, it was my last attempt at eating anything Indian- a full five years ago.

Without any prior planning we end up standing and chatting outside an Indian restaurant. There’s me, my Iranian buddy and a third guy who he once worked for. We have spent the last few minutes catching up and reminiscing on the various bits and pieces of the shared lives we have missed in the intervening months.

The thing about these meetings is that they invariably segue into a catalogue of cynical musings. We moan about the lack of excitement in our line of business, gleefully swap stories about former bosses whose careers have gone awry, and self deprecatingly (in mock humility) discuss what it is we are currently working on.

As we stand in front of the Indian restaurant, someone suggests we go in and grab a bite. My Iranian friend is ambivalent, his ex boss is keen to try something new in the city and I am positively petrified, but for lack of a coherent excuse I agree and we walk in.

There are several empty tables available and we grab a seat by the window, in a smaller section of the room. I skip the starter, some sort of corn wrap with mixed sauces.

When the main menu arrives, it is a curious mix of names I am blissfully unaware of. I eventually order a chicken tikka with some rice, only medium spiced. When it arrives, it has a soft, light aroma. The chicken is slightly salty but tastes great, as does the accompanying rice side dish and the curry sauce. As I eat it, I half expect to suddenly throw up and massively embarrass myself, but I survive; washing it down with a sweet cider.

All in all it’s a great evening out, one more place to file in my places-to-take-a-prospective-love-interest-to and more importantly there’s one more flavour to my international food basket.

Thankful….. for Nando’s

Between working extra hours on a couple of projects at work –  and my natural proclivity to laziness –  honing utilising what precious little cooking skills I have has been relegated to the very back of a fully loaded back burner. It hasn’t helped that the main African shop in town is off my route (and involves an extended walk to and fro the nearest bus stop if I were to use it), or indeed that the final surviving African eatery in town closed shop a couple of years ago.

This week was another one of  those weeks from hell. Thankfully, my Nando’s outlet next door has come to the rescue. Not healthy I know, but I use the stairs not the elevator at work, drink only coke zero and get around by walking as much as I can to counteract the calories, even if these are only token actions. So for a quick fix for staving off hunger, I am thankful for Nando’s.

In which I perfect the non-trivial art of eating hot dodo

One of my lesser known ‘life skills’ is eating piping hot dodo – and that fresh from the frying pan. Looking back, this non-trivial skill was honed in the kitchen of #19 Aiguobasinmwin Crescent. It must have been sometime in 1986 – those were the heady days in which Lawrence Anini our very own Robin Hood-lite and his side kick Monday Osunbor reigned supreme in Benin City. Sane, un-jazzed-up people stayed indoors, the not so sane limited their night-time frolicking nonetheless.

At the time my coffee intoxicated PhD chasing father, my barely four year old sister and I shared our three bed flat. Meal times consisted of soups and stews warmed so many times that they had gone stale by mid week with rice or eba – hardly something to look forward to. Mother and the other sister lived about 80 kilometers aways in another town, so the best she could do was make the soups and stew over a weekend, pack them and get them frozen for when we had to make the hour long trip, typically on Sunday evenings. I suspect the dull green colour of the food bowls didn’t help either –  hardly an inspiring choice.

Amidst our food travails, suya on Airport Road and piping hot dodo became the only high points we could look forward to. Like all evolving organisms we adapted our eating processes to maximise the amount of dodo we could get. I for one learned to suck in a huge glob of air at the same time as dropping dodo into my mouth to cool it. Many years later I would learn, that the heat transfer rate was proportional to the mass flow rate of air (ie the more air i sucked in the cooler the dodo would be). Over time, I got so adept at pulling this trick off that my father finally put his foot down and made us all wait for the entire batch of dodo to be fried and shared before eating… So much for my ‘life skill’. Sigh

 

TGIF…

I get a phone call from my buddy Ken. Yet another one of the blokes from work has moved on to ‘pastures new’ and we who have been left behind are meeting up for drinks and to chat. It is a welcome distraction from the events of the last few weeks – missing EJ, a couple of massive projects at work and the fairly steady haranguing I have been getting from my mother.

We meet up at the Moonlight Bar in town. It is owned by a Nigerian chap, who is friends with a few of the guys so we get to use it free for events as long as we buy beers from him. I am the fifth person through the door, but the place rapidly fills up until we are well in excess of sixteen people. We dive into the bottles of beer – as usual I settle for Becks blue which is supposedly non-alcoholic.

Informal introductions take place – everyone is a geek of some sort – and then we all begin to give and take banter as the beers flow. As usual there is talk about Nigeria. Someone brings up the comedy of errors that were the postponed elections, GEJ’s Biafra faux pas, and we all give a piece of our minds. Feelings begin to run high as people whose interests lie with different political parties and camps begin to analyse the pros and the cons of their positions.

After a while, we break into little groups. The Ibo chaps all gather over bottles of gulder and pepper soup. Jay and I come together in our own little two-man group.

-So how’s EJ doing, he asks. In the past he’s insisted he’s EJ’s biggest fan, bar me, so his question is expected.

-She’s fine, I say. He peers into my face, as though he somehow detects there’s more I haven’t said. I weigh the pros and the cons of a full disclosure, but decide to hold off. He is clearly not satisfied and he proceeds to probe a little more. I finally let it all out.

– We broke up a couple of weeks ago man, there was the small matter of an irreconcilable divergence in opinion on a particularly heated subject.

– There you go again this man he says as he shakes his head, his brow creased into a frown due to the mammoth effort he appears to be making to understand what I am saying.

– Na grammar go kill you ooo.  So you lot broke up just for one reason?

I nod in agreement. He motions to the barmaid to send two more bottles our way. He is still shaking his head when the bottles arrive.

Beating the flu, conversations over lunch and a question of faith…

I finally beat my bout of the flu. Two days off work away from the cesspool of infection and re-infection – and a strong smelling concoction served up by my friend O – proved the final sucker punch that knocked out the few remaining colonies of the bug I picked up. I still do not consider myself at 100% fit, but at least it has become possible to settle into a close approximation of my old routines even though a slight headache remains.

For lunch today, I meet up with two new friends – A Pakistani Catholic and an Iranian Muslim. We were introduced by a mutual friend at a professional meeting and we got to share and enjoy each other’s company. As a concession to our halal eating friend, we have lunch at one of the smaller Pakistani eateries in town. Inevitably our conversation drifts to the recent events in the Arab world which have culminated in a de facto civil war in Libya. Interestingly, their conviction is that the West (quote America and Britain) are somehow complicit in the popular uprisings. I take the position that the uprisings can’t have done the West any favours what with changing balances of power and corridors of influence in those countries. The Iranian counters that the West has a history of meddling, and recommends that I seek out Philip Agee’s CIA diary as an expose of the capabilities of the CIA. I make a mental note to chase down a copy for my education.

An interesting subtext to our discussion is the subject of faith. Our Pakistani friend, like me, has lapsed into a nominal notion of faith and religion – more a cultural marker than a defining idea for life. Our Iranian friend though sees more than a notional value in faith – he argues that morality and faith are inextricably linked and that absolute standards of good and evil under-gird morality. Matters of faith are not high on my agenda just now,  but these are matters that I really need to engage over the next few months. After all one needs some form of moral compass I would think.

My reading this year is evolving as I go along. I’ve finally dived into Teju Cole’s Open City and as I expected it has delivered meditative prose much in the vein of his other offering Every day is for the Thief. His attention to little details about the city, and quotidian events which would otherwise escape the average person are qualities that have made me a firm fan of his; disciplines which I am trying to acquire over the course of this year. Two other new books arrived in the two days I was knocked out – both by Dave Eggers – A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and Zeitoun. I can only hope I get the time to read them.

Going Vegetarian..

The sudden realization, that it took me only a month and a half to fill a Nandos loyalty card has left me with a mixture of sadness and fear – sadness at the sheer number of chicken that have lost their lives to feed my lust for peri-peri chicken, and fear at what those loads of chemical laced proteins is doing to my innards… So for a week – to pacify my conscience, i will eat vegetarian only… That will be difficult because my early morning bacon sandwich and coffee from Sainsbury, my company paid bacon/egg/mushroom roll on Fridays, and all the other good meaty stuff I live for will get tossed out.. Healthy eating was one of the four critical categories for 2010, I need to get a jump on it….

Free Food’s great…

Free food is great, especially when you are a confirmed bachelor with an aversion for cooking. I’m sure if my pots and pans have a choice they would  vote to have me back in their next ‘lives’. Such is the ease  of their lives! Providence must have decided to be kind to me though, as a few hours after complaining of feeling listless I got a phone call from my work buddy O to head off to the beach. He and I have an inside joke where I hail him as my mentor and he says I’m much too old to be mentored by him, and considering the boring lives we lead, hanging out is always a plus. Fast forward a few hours and we head off to the beach where we go to this Chinese buffet thingy at Jimmy Chung. Two huge cokes, lamb ribs, some curried rice and soup later, we could belch with satisfaction at a great days work – all for nine pounds. I should definitely do this again!

Menus, shopping lists and healthy eating.

The rude shock of seeing the bathroom scale inching steadily towards 100kg has given me the proverbial kick up the back side. I need to start eating healthy ASAP. Eighteen months of binging on KFC, Greggs and Pizza Hut has done my weight in, and added a few inches to the waist line.

The big problem though is I have zilch experience in drawing up menus and creating shopping lists. I’m good when its a crowd going shopping, and I can eyeball what they are buying and decide. Like the googlephile I am, i jumped to google, to see if there were any hints I could get. I stumbled on the UK Food Safety Agency’s Eat well website. Loads of useful information even though it seemed overwhelming at times!

Four hours later, and countless more google searches, I am no closer to deciding what I want to buy than when i started. I think I will just outsource the creation of the list to one of my more skillful female friends!

Shopping..

I finally went shopping, with a few friends from around the neighbourhood. Meat, tomatoes, onions, and a stop over at the African shop for some real rice meant my long running addiction to KFC is definitely in for a serious beating! Slowly getting used to this town, I cringe at the upheaval another relocation might cause if I get the job I am currently interviewing for..

Dear God, Deliver me from Greggs!

Each morning, my nostrils awake to redolent scents, wafting outward from the Greggs eatery next to my house. Sadly, this particular branch is close enough to allow some of the scents find their way in, but just far enough to befuddle my sense of smell in such a way that I cannot precisely tell which is which.

Some days I can almost bet my sweet life that they are arranging hot piping amala there. At other times, I am positive I have heard inhaled the smell of akara, of moi moi and even party jollof rice! Problem though is there is no way any of these can smell like the above; unless there is a Naija chic surreptitiously boiling her own things on the side..

Clearly, my sense of smell has been compromised by the extreme lack of Nigerian lemms.   Dang I miss my moooommmmmmmmy’s akara!