In 1975 I finally escaped tyranny of ham, Spam, and mushy vegetables. You can read parts of my struggle here  here and here..

I leapt into my 850cc Triumph Spitfire convertible, 0 to 30 in three minutes, and pointed the upholstered rollerskate towards London. A land of unknown opportunity.

By Brit standards I was doing pretty darn well. I was in the then fledgling computer industry and at the tender age of my early twenties was boldly going where no sane person should go. I had been employed by the Xerox company to assist in building their first major European data center, IDC1 was its official title. It’s location was just outside Watford. I found myself what the brits call a bedsit. This translates to a room just large enough to install a single bed and not much else!

Cooking was out of the question! The solution was to eat at work or eat out. Unfortunately Watford seemed a little lacking in the great cuisines that I was hoping to sample. A year long diet of soggy fish and chips, wrapped in newspaper and cold by the time I got to my little piece of purgatory or Bangers and Mash with onion gravy from at the local pub was wearing a little thin. Every couple of weeks I would make the trek back to Ham Central, the primary mission was to schmooze my mother into washing a suitcase full of dirty clothes. I worked in the suit and tie world, so I always had lots! Usually my mother took on the task without a word, there was however one occasion when she did gripe a little bit. I had had some unfortunate culinary encounters and as a result had 48 dress shirts that needed some TLC.

Bidding Xerox a fond farewell my next stop seemed culinary heaven. I just knew that living and working in the Hammersmith, Earls Court region of London would be the major breakthrough in food that I was looking for.

I think I partially succeeded. My computer geeking skills had secured me a position with the J Lyons company. The name probably does not ring any bells to US readers, but they were a powerhouse in the food and hospitality world. Lyons Tea Houses, Trust Houses Forte hotels, and Tetley Tea were but a few of the brand names.

The perks were great! For the factory workers there was a greasy spoon cafeteria where for the equivalent of 25 cents you could enjoy a gut busting and artery clogging breakfast buffet. My favorite was fried eggs, sausage, bacon, and the all time favorite, a slice of bread fried in the bacon grease topped with a couple of stewed tomatoes. This was fine dining. A cup of tea that had been stewing for several hours in a large urn was the crowning glory. It is hard to believe that all this could be achieved by 8:30am!

Lunch was even better. Computer geeks, because of how much money we made, were classed as management, I am sure this was something to do with avoiding entanglement with the Unions. Lunch was served on a well appointed dining room, each table sat four people, white tablecloths, real napkins, and real silverware adorned each table. Well dressed waitresses then served a three course meal, followed by coffee and the cheese plate. The food was always of the highest standard, the service impeccable and best of all, it was completely free!

There was only one challenge left, dinner. The Hammersmith and Earls Court areas of London had restaurants from around the world. Whatever you heart desired was waiting to be sampled.

I did develop a real love of a couple of cuisines. There is little to beat a wonderful Doner Kabob served in fresh Pita Bread with tahini sauce. It is a far cry from the version that we call a Donair.

The real thing is made from lamb not beef. and real Pita Bread comes from an oven fresh, rather than being a stale three week old adventure sold at your local supermarket.

Chinese food was also a favorite. Oh not the soggy sweet and sour pork balls swimming in a sea of red goo that you can pick up at your local Take-out. I am talking about real Chinese cooking, Vibrant colors and vibrant tastes that lure you in and captivate all of your senses.

Without doubt though, the ultimate find was the foods of India. People have a huge misconception about Indian food, it is NOT just about making dishes in a variety of head exploding hotness. If you want that, I recommend that you stick with Hot Wings served in your local sports bar.

Authentic Indian cooking is about depth of flavors, not how high it ranks on the Scovil Chart. In my mind the whole problem starts in the darn supermarket, a clueless shopper buys some no-name bottle marked Curry Powder. I use the term no-name, but the same applies to the popular well known name brand spice sellers. The two key ingredients are cost, and staleness. They go hand in hand. To keep costs down, they buy in bulk, of course they don’t sell in bulk, so everything is stale by the time it hits the supermarket shelves.

Fresh herbs and spices are wonderful things. They impart a ‘here and now’ message rather than a ‘has been’ story.

Good Indian food is as good as life gets.

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