Food: Rasa Samudra

OK, yesterday I promised you a follow-on about the BNS conference Wednesday evening dinner. So here we go:

I am very guilty of being a “curry house” whore. Mine’s a chicken passanda and saag aloo, plus a couple of poppadoms with all the trimmings. So, given the opportunity to try genuine Keralan cuisine, whilst in the company of some of Britain’s most eminent neuropsychologists, I positively leapt at the chance. About a dozen of us decided to go along, including me and my new student friends Ewan and Simona, as well as the two assistant psychologists that helped out on the registration desk. The eminent psychologists previously mentioned included Ash (obviously), Dr Jamie Ward, Dr Andy Ellis, Dr Dana Samson, and many others (I am truly useless with names, so I heartily apologise. I’m surprised that I remembered that many).

Not having a clue where we going, I followed the crowd – it was a bit of a weird experience, looking back, trouping through London with a group of neuropsychologists. Quite pleasing though.

I soon found myself approaching the most pink restaurant I have ever seen. Oh, we were going to eat here? Scary.

But despite the Angel Delight-style facade, Rasa Samudra is absolutely wonderful. On Charlotte Street (nearest tube: Goodge Street), it is an authentic Kerelan restaurant. I’ve never tried Keralan cuisine before, but I have only heard good things, so I was looking forward to it. We were directed upstairs, where tables had been wedged into a row, the entire length of the room, to form a neuropsych-style banquet room. Sitting down, I found myself between Ewan and Dr Ellis, and directly opposite Ash – perfect, I could grill him on my dissertation ideas.

Perusing the menu, several of us decided to gang together and have the starter platter of pre-meal snacks, chutneys & pickles – when it arrived, it turned out to be a delicious combo of crispy, crunchy deep-fried loveliness. Plenty to dip the poppadoms, banana chips and so forth in – some dips were sneaky and surprisingly spicy, some beautifully cooling, and there was a wonderfully sweet mango pickle. A very sociable starter platter, and those who had ordered their own single starters wanted in on the action too – we ended up ordering another! In return, Ash let several of us try his started – some sort of spicy fish, but I’m not sure exactly what it was. Whatever, it was amazing.

Next up, came our mains. I cannot for the life of me remember what everyone had, but I went for the Varutharacha Meen curry – “a home-style tilapia fish prepared in perhaps Kerala’s best kept secret sauce made with roasted coconut, red chillies, tomatoes and tamarind. The fish itself is buttery soft and absorbs all the flavours of the spices.” Ash’s choice (I think mainly chosen because the menu description amused him) was Kappayum Meenum – “The most famous dish of “Kallu Shaap (Toddy Shops) all over Kerala. Kingfish cooked in a sauce made from onions, fried chillies, turmeric and ginger served with a plate of cassava steamed in turmeric water. This combination tastes so good that people walk into these village bars just to taste it even though they don’t drink Toddy”.

I wish I can remember what Ewan’s choice was – whilst not a vegetarian, he went for a veggy option, which was full of delicious wilted spinach. Dr Mike Anderson (look! I remembered another name!) went for the Crab Varuthathu, which I was originally tempted by – “A crab dish cooked dry with ginger, curry leaves, chilli and mustard seeds, our chef’s speciality.” In the end, I’m sort of glad I didn’t choose this – whilst I love crab, it looked like a real fight, as it came cooked in its shell. Weapons were provided, to free the delicious crab meat.

We ate our meal accompanied simply with steamed rice – we shared around freely, as Indians do, according to Ash. Ash and I discussed the weird possessiveness that the British have towards their meals – why order and eat only your own dish? Friends of mine will know I can never order the same meal as anyone else, if I’m with a small group. This is mainly because, if I’m going to pinch a bit of someone else’s food, it needs to be something I’m not already eating… I love tapas for exactly this reason, because I like to sample lots of different flavours, and not just pig out on one key taste. I can safely say that everything I tasted was absolutely delicious (I don’t want to use the phrase “party in my mouth” but oh look, I just did) – Rasa Samudra’s kitchen should be congratulated for their fine balance of herbs and spices, and their generous but not gluttonous portion sizes. Also, Cobra beer is a perfect match for any curry – just had to slide that one in.

It goes without saying that the company helped – we didn’t just discuss neuropsychology, because my dining companions were fascinatingly knowledgeable on a huge variety of topics (including Venice, Belgian politics, classical music and… Scientology. Well, scientologists hate psychologists, so, know thine enemy). Whilst I was listening intently a lot of the time, I did manage to converse quite soundly and up-held my end of the conversation (or, at least I hope I did). At the very least, I demonstrated huge enthusiasm.

A shame then that the evening had to end, as all things eventually must. But what an experience. I’m glad that I skipped those lectures – well worth it, and I will be committed to putting in the extra study to catch up, don’t you worry…


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