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SATURDAY CHILD: Chai till I die


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“START WITH the rubber curry. The rubber curry should be used in a circular motion to loosen dirt that has settled under the horse’s hair.”
This is good advice for people who curry horses. In this case, the word “curry” is associated with neatening and not with eating. No Horse Vindaloo or Risaala Massala on the menu.
The first time I heard the word “curry” in connection with horses, I was at the Queen’s Park Savannah, having run away from elementary school with a few of my friends to take in a Thursday afternoon horse racing event.
We inevitably found our way to the stables and saw a groom walking a losing horse into the paddock while vociferously verbally abusing the horse for its failure.
“What you going to do with the horse?” I asked. “I have to curry it,” he replied. I immediately had a vision, not of a pale horse but of a green horse, a horse of a different colour so to speak.
It is when the groom continued: “And if you don’t move from here I will curry your . . . ,” that we galloped madly and frantically away from the stables to the safety of the crowded grounds.
Then there was “curry favour”. It was a term I couldn’t really come to terms with and wondered whether children who invited their teachers home for Divali, or sending them some of the food was “curry favour”. What made it more confusing was that many people mispronounced it “curry flavour”.
When a young girl brought some mangoes for the teacher and my classmates accused her of seeking “curry flavour”, I was aghast.
While my family sometimes served curried mangoes for Divali dinner or at other religious events where the food was strictly vegetarian, these were ripe Julie mangoes that the teacher received. I kept wondering how the curry came into it.
Later on I found out that “curry favour” has nothing to do with curry the condiment. The “curry” part of the word came from the French “conraier” meaning “to prepare” or “put in order” – hence the curried horse.
“Favour” came from French “Favel”, and Palgrave in 1530 defined a “curryfavel” as a “flatterer”. The “Favel” comes from the tale of “Fauvel” – an ambitious and vain donkey who deceived the leaders of church and state.
Of course, curry was and continues to be part of my comfort zone. I grew up in a household where a lot of food was curried. We were green long before it became fashionable.
But then, to add to the confusion, there was “massala”. I worked out from experience that “curry” and “massala” were not synonymous and the curry flavour and massala flavour, while variations on the theme of spice, were different.
According to one expert, if you put in your spices before putting in the meat or vegetable, you are creating a curry and if you put them in after, you are cooking massala.
This is not how we did it in our family. At the start of the cooking process, oil was heated in a pot and then whatever the mixture, curry or massala paste, was put into the oil until it started to parch or burn and then the rest of the ingredients were added.
Generally, curried food had a sauce and food cooked with massala was thick, hot and spicy. I also found out that some people in Britain call the ground, dried, powdered mix “curry” and the mix of original spices “massala”.
Later in Trinidad we had the variation, introduced in a calypso, “curry tabanca”. The term “tabanca” is used to describe someone whose love has been spurned or a person cuckolded or “horned”. In Guyana, it is known as getting “blow” (not “blown”), and after a spicy massala one does blow a bit.
In India, the word “chai” is generally used to mean “tea” (“cha” in China) but then there is “missala chai” which is milky tea loaded with spices, especially cardamom and cinnamon. For most of my life I was a coffee-drinker and would not drink the “cha” for all the tea in China.
Then, on the advice of my doctor, I switched to tea, preferring a vanilla infused black tea from Sri Lanka, which I had first tasted in Mauritius. Now, I am a massala chai man, the chaikovsky of tea drinkers, a veritable chairopodist.
Wikipedia says: “The traditional massala chai is a bracing, strongly spiced beverage brewed with so-called ‘warm’ spices. Most masala chai incorporates one or more of the following: cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, star anise, peppercorn and cloves.”
In terms of positive health benefits, cinnamon has been used in the treatment of diarrhoea and other gastrointestinal problems. Like tea, it has antioxidant properties but also decreases bad cholesterol and lowers blood pressure.
Black pepper has natural antibiotic and anti-bacterial properties and is also an antioxidant. Ginger and star anise help with digestive problems.
But is that why I drink massala chai? Not really.
Seeing that my doctor has given me a case of “coffee tabanca” and I cannot curry-flavour him into changing the regime, I am forced into tea-dium and have become a tea-totaller.
The only thing I can do is laugh like when one of my Trini friends saw me brewing and drinking the stuff. He thought it was an aphrodisiac and called it Indian Viagra. I had to tell him that chai, by itself, was not so loaded but if I said to him, “Bring the chai nah man”, that is a horse of a different colour and sex, most likely a stallion wanting a good curry.
l Tony Deyal was last seen saying that he was thinking of joining Sarah Palin and her Tea Party, but he found them chai-lish.