While his appetite is on the wane, food columnist Murray finds that food from a local takeaway is just what he needs…
One of the very few positive realisations I’ve had in recent weeks has been the reminder of the power of the human voice.
By that I don’t just mean that Pavarotti’s majestic tenor arias have become the essential soundtrack to my daily tasks, Salut Demeure blasting out over the Tay like an invocation to the Gods while I get busy with the Mr Sheen; no, life-enhancing as the maestro is – especially conveyed via crackling, glorious vinyl – it’s the telephone calls from friends that have kept me going.
Just hearing another voice with its warmth of intonation, laughter and sense of camaraderie can lift the spirits like little else. Messaging is fine for giving directions, arranging courier deliveries and enabling distanced love affairs but really nothing warms the heart more than a call from a relative or friend.
My friend Helen and I just spoke about how we’re coping during lockdown. She paused – as if internally debating just how much of the truth we could take – before we both laughed tentatively and admitted that we weren’t coping well at all.
I mean, do you know anyone who is? I count myself one of the reasonably lucky ones, in that I still have a job and I can buy food and pay my bills, but even then there remain the sweeping, nagging questions that are normally left for the occasional long dark night of the soul – what kind of life is this, how can I deal with it all by myself and where’s it all heading?
Also – it has to be said – who voted for these Dad’s Army Tories in Westminster and how can their equally inept branch managers, the Lance-Corporal Jones’s of Scotland, live with their consciences, assuming they actually have them?
In terms of hope you can probably put me down as an optimistic pragmatist, albeit one riddled with self-doubt, with a propensity to over-think everything and a dislike of anyone who lies.
These days we must take our pleasure where we find it. If we’re not to crumble mentally we must endeavour to celebrate the people and things that make us feel good, however small, however silly. This week that has meant committing sacrilege and moving curry night from a Friday to a Tuesday which felt so wrong I was convinced there must be a law against it – hardly Anarchy in the UK, I know, but even armchair rebels gain succour from a good chicken tikka masala and a garlic naan.
I remember I used to mock trendy urbanites who said things like “Thursdays are the new Fridays” and, of course, now the end of the week seems a bit less noteworthy it’s easy to just let the days and weeks merge into one. Yet Friday is still the end of the working week for most of us, however symbolic, and I still get that warm glow when we get there.
As a lairy adolescent in the 1970s, of course, that glow was more like a huge euphoric rush, the kind of dizzying anticipation that comes from hours being cooped up in a job you can’t stand. Working in a factory packing surgeon’s gloves, we would get our pay packet on Friday afternoons and count down the hours until we were free to clock-out.
The energy levels would rise as the radio seemed to pump out Car Wash and Boogie Nights louder and faster, a precursor to the fun to be had in the under-age drinking bars of Dundee a few hours later. Some 45 years on I can still feel the joy of getting on the bus on Dunsinane Avenue, rushing home to get changed and dashing out to paint the town all colours of the rainbow.
There was no time for food – Carlsberg Special was our starter, pints of snakebite our mains and vodka gimlets were for high times when an adult was paying and we all remembered that Andy Warhol and Mick Jagger drank them in Studio 54. Surprisingly that often didn’t go down well with bar staff in Dundee.
Now that I’m not so much living for the weekend as remembering my dear departed granny who could never embark on a journey to the bus stop without saying “if God spares me”, I figure that Tuesdays – having slithered down the greasy pipe of not so manic Mondays – are OK for a bit of a curry and a toast to being alive. Tuesdays, after all, are one day closer to Fridays.
My favourite curry restaurant in Dundee is Dil’se who do deliver to Fife – but I’m trying to stick to local places as much as possible. For this reason – and also because I hadn’t ordered from them for a while – we decided to order too much food from the Taj Mahal which is based by the Forgan roundabout near Newport-on-Tay.
I always really enjoyed this place. I loved driving past and seeing their ultra-bright façade gleam against the dullness of the dual carriageway, I loved that their menus were equally colourful – and of course I liked the food. But something has changed and it’s even better now.
The website is excellent and ordering online is a breeze. Everything is laid out clearly and there’s a search button for people like me who couldn’t find a poppadom under any of the categories (they appear under “side dishes” although it still took me an age to find them again as I wrote this).
Many dishes come in smaller portions although the price differential between starter and main isn’t huge and the ease of ordering means that you will inevitably order too much. Portions are big but, luckily, so were our appetites.
Everything we ordered was delicious and was enough for three meals – dinner, lunch the next day and then a second dinner. The saag paneer (£5.95) was fantastic. We inadvertently ordered it as a main and as a side dish (£4.95) and it was one of those happy accidents that saved a fight over Channel 4 News.
Another main of tarka dhal (£5.95) was equally impressive – I’m such a dhal fiend that I even have a book dedicated just to that one dish, and this version from Taj Mahal was excellent. Spinach bhaji (£4.95) and mushroom bhaji (£4.95) were great and a side of kab(u)li chana (£4.95) was so good it’s now on my regular order list. Incidentally, when you register your details the site keeps a list of your previous orders, along with all the prices and the total. We paid £43.30 but we ordered a lot of food and it was all of such quality that it was well worth it as it would have easily served four.
My only gripe about most home deliveries, this included, is that bread dishes sometimes don’t arrive at their best. Just as in the Chinese food we had recently, I find that transportation does nothing for the fresh, mouth-puckering punch that the hottest bread delivers.
I’m personally too much of a glutton to attempt even mild resuscitation on a bread dish that’s gone soggy en route and so my solution is always to keep some bought naan bread at hand. Those less slothful than me would probably dampen the naan slightly and put it under a hot grill.
But really this is no criticism of what was a brilliant selection of Indian food from a small local business that is punching way above its weight in terms of quality.
One of the criteria I think we need to apply to delivered food is whether it tastes any different to what you might expect in a restaurant. Inevitably much of it does.
The food from Taj Majal is an exception; it arrives hot and bursting with flavour, delivery is fast, you can track the delivery time online and they call you if there are any delays. It’s a real joy to rediscover this place and find that it’s even better than I remembered it.
When all the Indian food was finally eaten it was time to cook again and a recent delivery of vegetables from Les Turriff helped vegetarian January seem a joy and not a penance.
In truth, since I’ve been looking after my cat Simone at home I haven’t felt like eating meat – it’s all felt a bit too raw and real, especially seeing her abdomen shaved of the fur that she once carried so resplendently
Like most carnivores I’m trying to eat less meat anyway and I believe that, ethics aside, there is a time when your body tells you how best to nourish it. Right now that means plenty of vegetarian dishes.
Supper tonight will be the wonderful parsley soup from Simon Hopkinson’s seminal Roast Chicken and Other Stories (£22), written with the brilliant Lindsey Bareham (the recipe also features in Lindsey Bareham’s A Celebration of Soup, sadly out of print but easily found online).
The vibrant green of this soup is really something to behold on a cold January day when the sleet seems to have seeped into my bones, even though I’m in the kitchen with the heating turned up full.
Another wonderful book for January is The Rangoon Sisters Cookbook (£20) which is recipes from a Burmese family kitchen. Although not a vegetarian book the salads alone are worth the price of admission and as soon as I can track down pickled tea leaves – lahpet – online I will be making the pickled tea leaf salad. I ate this many times in a fabulously basic restaurant called Mandalay in London’s Edgware Road and it’s an instant conduit to happier times.
Taj Mahal, Forgan Roundabout, Newport-on-Tay, Fife. DD6 8RB. Tel 01382 542856