After bouncing around a few pubs, we would ride the crest of a lager wave to a Chinese restaurant where we would order the same thing every single time. I’d like to say it was Peking Duck with extra pancakes but in Dumfries back then we had much simpler tastes, so Chinese omelette and chips it was.
It sounds far from exotic but the spring onions were enough to leave us feeling sophisticated and worldly wise. Suffice to say, it came as a bit of a shock to the system when a couple of years later I first visited Chinatown and came to face to face with ‘phoenix claws’ or chicken feet as a vet would call them.
Purists might accuse the Chinese restaurant owner in my home town of betraying the oldest cuisine in the world. I think he was pragmatically looking after his customers in the same way Indian restaurants have been serving curry for 200 years.
However food blogger Chaheti Bansal doesn’t see it that way. This week she urged us to cancel the word curry because it is rooted in colonialism and is “an umbrella term popularised by white people who couldn’t be bothered to learn the actual names of dishes”.
In the culture wars it seems the new battleground is food. In recent times, Gordon Ramsay has been lambasted for serving his version of Chinese food while Marks and Spencer came under fire for selling a vegan Biryani wrap.
So do we need a reset to respect the pure authenticity of other cuisines or is that missing something fundamental? The clue probably comes in the fact that Chaheti is based in California where nuts are the official food of the state.
Ever since Marco Polo brought noodles back to Italy from China and christened them pasta, food has been a moveable feast. In 1962 a chef opened a tin of pineapple and created the Hawaiian pizza. Sam Panopolous was a Greek immigrant living in Canada at the time. That’s how cosmopolitan food has become.
Since then Italians have also had to put up with us adding cream to spaghetti carbonara but they do it with a shrug, safe in the knowledge that while we are clogging our arteries, they are eating the authentic version.
Similarly, the latest episode of Jeremy Clarkson’s Grand Tour involves a trip to Scotland and a running gag about how everything we eat is deep fried. It’s not true but it is funny and if anyone is actually put off ordering the best Scots beef in case it comes in batter then fine, that means more for us.
Food should be one of the great joys in life. We eat at least three times a day so why make it a chore or another source of shame or embarrassment? One of the great benefits of multiculturalism is the way that it has enhanced eating in this country, introducing us to new flavours and techniques.
We should be able to enjoy them without having to carry around a lexicon of food to avoid being accused of cultural appropriation. With chicken curry in the UK’s top ten most-popular dishes, anyone who thinks differently has bitten off more than they can chew.