Don’s Diary ( Curries )

It is often said that where the British Empire spread, so did Freemasonry. There was a time when the sun never set on the Empire and of course there is a passage in our ritual that has similar connotations for Freemasonry. Much has been written on the role of Freemasonry as a binding force within the British Empire. Again there is a British taste for curry which has spread going back to the fifteenth century in Tudor times when it imported Indian spices, seasoning food if they could afford to do so with cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, black pepper, mace and so on. I have observed that our members love their curry.

There is a thread in my life that can be traced by my curry experiences. As a child pre-WW2, I recall so called curries being made at home starting with a lamb or beef stew and Keens Traditional Curry Powder sprinkled on the top and stirred in when it was cooked. Not much of a curry but I can recommend Keens for curried egg sandwiches.

In my service on the Thai-Malay border in the 1960s we undertook long patrols in the jungle and carried all our food which often comprised of British canned hard rations – it was terrible. After throwing out half of it to reduce the weight to be carried, the art was then how to disguise the rest and make it reasonably edible. Curry was the solution and the ability to find some edible supplements such as bamboo shoots and chillies in the jungle. You could always tell where the Gurkhas had camped by the chilly bushes and you can guess how the seeds got there! Meanwhile at home the cook amah would prepare the most beautiful curries for the family. It would start with a trip to the market to return with a live chook with its wings tied behind its back. Every amah had their secret curry ingredients. Poultry and fish were the main ingredients in kampong, or village food as there was no refrigeration and a bird would make a family meal. The range of meats on Asian menus in Australia today would be unaffordable and virtually never served in the country of origin to ordinary people.

My wife and I were invited to the Sultan of Perak’s Palace for the wedding of his grand-daughter and the feast afterwards, lavish with spiced food in abundance. Officers’ Messes in Malaya often had curry lunches on a Sunday, a British tradition, for the base officers and normally the curries were accompanied with a large range condiments and side dishes which you did not see elsewhere. It seemed that elsewhere the cook was trusted. In kampongs, curries were usually eaten off a piece of banana leaf with your fingers.

Curry should not be so hot that it becomes as some say, “a test of manhood”. Nevertheless it should open the taste buds and be flavoursome. Sliced chilly should be offered, in fish sauce as done in Thailand if you wish, as a complement. Curries from each region are distinctive and a curry cook will go to some trouble to provide this variety and keep the dishes separate and discrete and look different, so if you want to discourage him or annoy him, just fill your plate with everything you can find on the buffet table and mix the flavours. I think it is just bad manners, displays culinary ignorance and often a touch of gluttony. You see it with Western dishes too. Putting tomato sauce on everything puts me off too!

Today curries are easy to prepare using the best fresh ingredients and prepared curry pastes from the great range available especially in the Asian food markets. No need to spend all those hours finding and preparing the large range of ingredients. Indian and Thai curries are great. My first Indian banquet curry meal was in the home of the District Medical Officer, a Malay/Indian, in 1961 at Grik, northern Malaya. I have enjoyed Thai curries from the Betong Salient to the Korat Plateau and from Bangkok to Chiang Rai in the far north. The Crown Prince of Thailand was a student of mine and on his commissioning I was his military tutor but I was never invited to share a Thai curry with him. For a Malay curry, Ayam brand curry powder is good but I especially like Nonya curry from Malacca, Malaysia which has a Malay-Chinese origin with extra spices introduced by the Portuguese who came to this Straits Settlement from Goa, India many years ago.

Experiment a little. Have a curry night in the South.

Yours fraternally ,