So Dad decided to make a curry tonight. He called it “leftover curry” because he made it out of vegetables left over in the veg box that he didn’t know what to do with. Like swede. He reckoned if he put it in a curry, perhaps we wouldn’t notice. But when it’s big and orange and tastes disgusting, there’s no way we wouldn’t find out.
You see, me and my big brother are always one step ahead. Nothing gets past us. And if Dad thinks he can sneak onions into a curry, then he’s got another thing coming!
Turns out that Dad’s been putting onions in his curries all along! Or so he says. He even says there’s onions in almost all Indian curries.
But I refuse to believe that, because whenever I’ve had a curry, it always tastes delicious, and so it cannot be true that there are onions in there. And when I point this out to him, he just winks – which is totally annoying if you ask me, because it’s like he thinks he is right, even though I KNOW he’s wrong.
So I ask him if there’s a curry that doesn’t have onions in (pretending all the while that he’s still right, even though he’s not). But that just makes him go on for ages about how it depends on what I mean by “curry”, and I soon lose interest in what he is talking about.
Until suddenly, he says something about “but a chicken”. So I say, ‘what do you mean.. but a chicken?’
‘Not but a chicken,’ he says. ‘BUTTER chicken. It’s a type of chicken curry made with butter, tomatoes and cream.’
Now that sounds like my kind of curry! I love butter (on crumpets) and tomatoes (on pizza) and cream (from the fridge, when no-one is looking – shhh!). And so I reckon I must love butter chicken 3x as much as any one of those things.
‘Can you make us some butter chicken, Dad?’ I ask him first thing in the morning.
I’ve been thinking about butter chicken all night. I even had a dream about it. In it, my big brother was making butter chicken for his Food Tech class at school, and as there are over 30 kids in his class, he was making the most epic pot ever. But then school was cancelled because of the lockdown, so me and him had to eat all of it, all by ourselves.
Anyway, Dad says that he’ll actually give butter chicken a try, so long as we help him make it. That’s okay because my big brother likes chopping, and I like stirring, so between us we should have butter chicken ready in no time.
Dad says however that we need to be “patient”, as it can take a while to make. Personally, I think that patience is overrated. It’s just something that grown-ups say to kids as it takes them ages to do anything. Maybe if they weren’t so glued to their phones, then maybe they’d get things done quicker…(And they say that kids are addicted to technology, huh?)
So I make this point to Dad, and that actually seems to spur him into action. In fact, he says we can even make butter chicken for tea tomorrow! Which is a total result, because I like my Dad’s cooking, even if he can be a bit creative with his descriptions.
Like, for instance, whenever he burns the toast, rather than just saying it’s burnt, he’ll just call it “charred”. And now he’s started calling soft-boiled eggs – “Les Urff, Sue Veed” – whoever they are.
So I’m hoping his butter chicken turns out all okay, and won’t need some fancy foodie term to make up for a major fail.
Turns out that Dad’s butter chicken is actually pretty decent, even if it isn’t quite what it looks like in the recipe book. In the book, the chicken is swimming in what looks like Heinz cream-of-tomato soup (my favourite), and there is even a drizzle of extra cream on top!
But Dad’s one looks all brown and gloopy, and it reminds me of the time when Mollie Townsend in 4F vommed in the school playground. (Ever since then, no-one’s dared go near the spot – we still call it “The Vom Zone”.)
The gloopiness couldn’t have been my fault, of course, because I only helped with the stirring, and my big brother only did the chopping, and so it obviously must have been something to do with Dad.
Dad makes an excuse that it’s the first time he’s ever made it, and that sometimes it takes practice to get it just right. Normally, I would think that’s just what grown-ups say when they aren’t very good at something. But I know that sometimes that can actually be true, because when I first started playing Fortnite, I was a total noob. But I’ve been practising a lot these past few months of lockdown, and I’m now a 157, which is pretty sick if you ask me.
My friend Conor is a 341, though, and a real pro. Since the lockdown, he seems to be playing all the time. Whenever I log on in the morning he’s always there. It’s like he’s been up playing video games ALL night! He must have the coolest parents ever.
Sometimes when I play with him online, I just like watching how he does it, like he’s some master ninja and I’m his star pupil – I find it’s a great way of learning some new skills. In fact, this gives me a total brainwave, and so I rush to find Dad immediately.
‘Daaaaaad?‘, I shout up the stairs in my Level 5 ignore-me-at-your-doom voice. ‘Can we go out to a restaurant for some REAL butter chicken?’ But before I can hear his reply, I suddenly remember that we are in lockdown so we can’t go out and everything is shut anyway.
By now though, Dad’s already coming down the stairs ( – told you, Level 5 never fails! ;-)). He replies, ‘What a great idea!’ And I almost fall off the step.
‘We can get a takeaway. There’s an Indian restaurant quite close by, in fact it’s one of the best around, and I’m sure it does butter chicken. It’s called Dastaan. Let’s order for Saturday night, eh?’
And this is the best news I’ve had in ages.
Only one more day to go till Dastaan! Even Dad is excited – when I mention it over breakfast, he just says it’s a “top food Dastaan-ation” (groan) and then he keeps laughing to himself.
Normally jokes like this would be a major face-palm, but today I don’t mind so much coz I’m excited too. And besides, thanks to the lockdown, we haven’t really been out much, so making little jokes to himself is just his way of getting by, I guess.
Personally, lockdown hasn’t bothered me so much – in fact, it’s been pretty fun playing lots of Minecraft with my big brother. And I also get to see my friends quite a bit on Zoom or Hangouts. Although just occasionally, I do find that I miss school – but I’m not gonna own up to that one, obvs!
Sometimes I can tell that things really are not okay. Like when I turn on the tellie in the morning and find the news is on, and there are all these charts and graphs like in Maths at school. Dad will suddenly hurl himself over to wherever the remote is, like a diving goalie, and fumble about trying to switch it to another channel. Sometimes he’ll even switch it to the PlayStation, and that’s when I know something must be really up.
It’s not like I don’t know anything that’s going on. Mum and Dad have actually talked to us quite a bit about the Coronavirus, so I sort of get it. When they do, their voices and faces can get all serious like, but then they try to say something at the end that’s a bit cheerier, and that seems to make it all a bit better.
I really do hope things are okay.
I wake up all excited today because it’s “Butter Chicken Day”. It’s not official, because it’s only our family eating butter chicken – and maybe a few other people round the world who might also happen to be eating it in their homes too, just because that’s what they do ordinarily, especially on a Saturday as that is the best day of the week.
But if I were Prime Minister, I would totally have an official “Butter Chicken Day” in the week, so that everyone can have the day off school to celebrate it.
I rush down for breakfast, where over Rice Krispies we are looking through Dastaan’s menu on the iPad. My older brother is concentrating so hard he keeps spilling his cereal onto the table without realising – what a bot!
The dishes all sound so cool and mysterious – there are words I’ve never heard of before, like panipuri, paneer tikka, and samosa chaat.
And there’s even a ‘chicken lollypop’, but I’m not sure if it’s: a) a lollypop in the shape of a chicken, b) a lollypop made out of chicken, or c) a lollypop that you’d give to chickens to lick, in the same way that you give dogs ‘dog biscuits’. (Please let it not be ‘c’..)
But then I look again, and amongst all these exciting words, the ones that are most exciting just aren’t there.
‘DANG IT!..‘ I grump to my Dad. ‘No butter chicken!’
‘Wait a sec,’ he says. And he then swipes further down, and there, right at the top of the next page in a section called “Curry and Sides”, is none other than “Butter Chicken Masala”.
Phew!.. Now I just have to wait all day for it, which as everyone knows, is the longest time ever when you really want something..
At last there is a knock on the door. Dad opens it, and there on the doorstep is a large brown paper bag. Already the air around it smells incredible.
‘Quick, quick Dad!’ I say, my mouth watering.
‘Okay, okay..’ he replies, as he picks up the bag and carefully begins lining up the takeaway boxes on the kitchen counter. I go from carton to carton, trying to decipher the scribbles on each of the lids, inspecting them for signs of butter chicken inside.
‘There it is!’ I shout, pointing wildly. ‘Can I open it, please please please?..’ And before anyone can reply, I open it anyway.
Immediately there’s a whoosh of heat, steam, and spices, so much so that it tickles my nostrils, and I have to blink and wipe my eyes. Inside, the contents look all magical, just like the recipe book, not a sign of brown gloop anywhere – a creamy orangey gravy, all thick and lovely, and even a bright ribbon of cream all drizzled over the top. I can already tell this is the real deal.
I pick it up with both hands (because it’s really hot and I don’t want to spill a drop), and I walk carefully to the table. I make sure not to swill the curry or mix up the little circle of cream, and I place it carefully onto the table mat.
Straight away, I grab the largest spoon out of the drawer – not just a normal tablespoon, but the largest serving spoon I can find, and launch it into the curry.
‘Steady on!’ Dad says. ‘That’s for all of us, you know. Just hold a sec before everyone sits down.’
I hate it when grown-ups say that. Especially when every second feels like forever. But eventually everyone is ready and in a flash I help myself to some of the creamy sauce and the bobbing bits of chicken, and eagerly spoon some into my mouth.
It is AWESOME! I can hardly describe it. Like nothing else I’ve ever tasted. The sauce is rich and delicious – all creamy, buttery, and tomatoey. It’s pretty spicy too – like a fire roaring fiercely on my tongue. (Mrs Husain at school likes us to use similes in our Big Writes – I think she’d be happy with that one.)
I was right about it not being gloopy – the meat is so soft and melting, with amazing flavour too. A bit like as though it’s been on a barbecue, just perfect with the spicy sauce.
‘Dad,’ I say, with a slight nod of the head whilst pointing at the dish. ‘Now this is what butter chicken should taste like!’
The other dishes are pretty epic too. There are these tiny little crispy baskets full of chickpeas, yoghurt, and a thick dark paste that Dad says is called tamarind. And when I bite into it, it’s a bit like a bomb going off, coz there’s a loud crunch and then all this flavour pings about in my mouth – sweet, sour and spicy, all at the same time.
And then there are these amazing breads called naan, which are flat and a little bit ‘charred’ as Dad would say – but these are actually meant to be like that! And then, when you bite into them, there’s this layer inside that’s smooth, sweet, and coconut-y.
And then for pudding we have these delicious little doughnut balls, all squidgy, sweet and spongy, and covered in the most amazing syrup ever.
I feel quite sad when it’s all gone, so I keep mopping up the last tiny dribbles of syrup with my finger until the bowl is shiny clean. Suddenly I catch my Dad glancing at me, and I quickly withdraw my finger.. only to find that he’s doing the exact same thing with his finger!
By the end, I am completely stuffed. It is the best meal ever. And I tell that to Dad, and he just smiles back approvingly.
I know things are pretty bad in the world right now. And I know that I’m actually very lucky really, in lots of ways. Still it’s hard when I don’t know when I’ll next be going back to school, or when I’ll be seeing my friends, or Grandma or Grandpa. Or when we’ll be able to visit actual restaurants. I don’t even know if everyone’s going to be totally safe.
But at least there’s one thing I do know – that right now, inside my tummy, is the best butter chicken in the whole wide world.
My own Dad was admittedly not one for cooking, never mind butter chicken. But he was the absolute best at reading bedtime stories. For my nostalgic recollections of storytime, and why it still means so much to me, feel free to check out my ‘Fathers, Sons & Bedtime Stories‘ post. In the meantime, Dastaan may be currently closed to sit-down customers, but they’re still operating as a takeaway. Here’s where you can drool over their menu too. Here’s hoping Dastaan – and all other cafés and restaurants across town – can make it through, and that it’s not long before they can welcome people through their doors again.