Back in the seventies our palates couldn't handle hot spices. These were life-on-mars times when, in Britain, we were just beginning to experience a whiff of multiculturalism. The days before Indian food became the staple diet of the English. On the scene came anglicised versions of what then was called foreign and is now called ethnic food. Bowdlerised and constructed from mainly traditional English ingredients we had Vesta curry. It's flavour still lingers in the form of McDonalds individual portions of curry ketchup. In those days a Vesta would cause outbreaks ofeye-watering, mouth wafting and people pointlessly lining their stomachs with milk in order to counteract the hotness (which is a coinage that I adore - a deliberate childish regulation of an irregular word formation - hot/heat - in order to create a subtly different meaning with only one specific application i.e. reporting the fierceness of chilli-spiced food) and stave off instant death from perforated ulcers.
And then there was chip shop curry sauce. It's absolutely nothing like curry and, despite research I cannot find out where or why it began appearing in chip shops. I bought some tonight with some Fish and Chips and it was delicious. Basically the bastard offspring of Vesta and lumpy school-dinner gravy, Chip Shop Curry Sauce is somehow the perfect accompaniment to Fish and Chips. Previously, we made do with salt and vinegar, but now for me the traditional, simple condiments are not quite enough on their own. You can even buy packets of Chip Shop Curry mix and granules. I never buy them, because in order to taste perfect Chip Shop Curry should be ladled from a stainless steel vat and served in a flimsy-lidded styrofoam pot with lumpy dribbles down the side. Perhaps it is the cultural memory of the start of ethnic food taking over our menus. Some throwback to childhood, but I nominate Chip Shop Curry as something that in itself is rather rubbish but completely brilliant.