Tuesday, March 23, 2010

G is For Galanga and the Wonderful Curries You Can Make With It

(Galangal root. No, it's not ginger.)

Last week we took our friends to a dinner at the Bangledeshi spot near our house. We haven't been there since last fall, and when I got there I remembered why.

Having lived a somewhat sheltered culinary life in Oxford and in the white collar world in general, I had forgotten what service at other cultural spots might entail. In truth, service has been up to my demanding standards at all the Buford Highway restaurants I frequent. I'm pretty patient, understanding, and often attempt to immerse myself in the scene. I can't think of the last time I've been slighted, save for the Chinese restaurant debacle during which Chris lost it on the waitress who in broken English called him a liar.

But dinner last week was something else. It was a reminder of what dining at other people's tables can be like in foreign countries. We take it for granted that when we enter these exotic restaurants, that we are still in the American South, but really we've crossed the threshold into new cultural territory. Some things are the same though. An insistent waiter is not unlike your Southern mother-in-law- who likes to see you gobble up her pineapple cheese casserole. (If you haven't tried this covered dish delight, you are missing out. The sweet pineapple is intensified by the salty cheese and ubiquitous Ritz crackers.) Then there's the command to try everything, a little of this, or a taste of that. Don't miss the pimento cheese. Yes, it looks unappetizing but it's not the appearance that matters. Right?

When I lived in London and went exploring in Holland, I ended up among a group of new friends who threw together a pot luck. The spread covered all four covers of the world. Try this, someone said as they ladled a curiously yellow soupy mess over a pile of rice. It ended up being a Indonesian-style chicken curry, and the next day, after my host had finished her morning prayers, I asked her to write down the recipe for me. You may not be able to find all of these ingredients, she told me, but she insisted I find them. She was right. For years I substituted galangal root with ginger, because I was too lazy to order the dried stuff online from an international food website. The ginger was a mediocre substitute at best and eventually I quit making the recipe. Then a few months ago, I was breezing through the Dekalb Farmer's Market when I spied a pile of galangal roots. Had my Indonesian friend not insisted, I would have forgotten about them.

No comments: