Some days nothing can beat a good curry.
I'm an expat. No matter how absorbed I've become by daily life in my adopted country, no matter how delighted I am by the quality of its restaurants and beer; still the ready availability of baked beans, a pool to swim in, cheddar cheese, custard and curry remain as fundamental to my emotional well-being as they always were. I even have to import the right cheese and beans in order to smother them gratuitously over whatever carbohydrate is to hand - usually a giant jacket potato or toast. "Why?" My Belgian friends ask. At this point it seems important to reassure them that only certain culinary products are lacking; that Belgian beer is far superior to anything flat, warm and English, and that my appreciation for British beery and chocolatey offerings has fallen in proportion to my time spent living in Brussels.
But my love of real, strong, tangy cheddar has not diminished. Nor has my love of tomatoey baked beans. Not sad, imitation lurid orange red leicester and 1 euro cans of Heinz, with the mini supermarket cashing in wilfully on my need for some "comfort food." No, I resist those.
So aside from occasionally missing the ready meal aisles at Marks and Spencer, there really isn't much I lack..... Save perhaps for a favourite Indian. I didn't know where to go, until now.
At the last Indian restaurant I'd tried in Brussels, the chef explained to me with some regret that he was unable to source the fresh spices like his counterparts in the UK. The restaurant was okay, but the naan breads were flat and biscuity, and I reckon I could taste the absence of fresh spices. Old colonial links have their uses!
Tonight I'm going to a real Indian. Many of the British "Indians" or "curry houses" are actually Bangledeshi, but I'm unsure of my footing where this cuisine is concerned and not sure I'll be able to tell the difference down to each individual dish. I have my favourite dishes, however, and I spend part of my afternoon scanning the menu and deciding what to have.
Approaching Ashok's it looks rather grand, with dark maroon eyelids obscuring its mysterious windowed eyes. I scout around outside for D, dining companion and fellow curry fan. She must be inside. But first I am met by a dramatic black, semi-circular, full-length entrance curtain, obscuring the interior but banishing the draught outside. Fumbling around for a break in the fabric, I feel like I'm about to make my first tentative debut on stage, or about to emerge and serenade the audience at Chez Maman. Finally there is a hole, and I emerge into the semi-gloom where diners and waiters have been looking at the flailing curtain and now at me. I should bow now. Instead I see my friend and scuttle over to her.
We're both impressed by the efforts made in interior design. The floor looks wooden and solid and the interior is dim, restrained sobriety in very good taste. Indian cushions in the window, a wooden wine rack taking up the whole length of a wall and crammed with bottles. The music in the background is under-stated but modern. No strange Indo-pop or slightly odd decor from the 1980s. The menus have classy embroidered covers, and the dessert menus, when we get that far, are pasted in Hindi comics, which look a bit like versions of Asterix and Obelix, as far as I can tell. There are plenty of staff around, smiling and attentive. With only a couple of occupied tables besides our own, we never have to wait long.
Just to be different, and because I can, I try a rose lassi, and D has cardamon. Neither rivals the best mango lassis I've had, but I've never had the choice of rose before. It tastes of sweet rose, perhaps a bit too sweetly, and is probably too pink to be true - pointing to the presence of food colouring. Still, I need to stop myself slurping it down too quickly.
We didn't manage to eat everything.
Our meal is rounded off by gulab jamun and some (cardamon) ice cream. Which are delicious. Someone once tried to make these sweet doughy balls at home for me (in the house with the dodgy wiring that rattled), but now, several years later, I know finally what they are meant to taste like.
Everything was going so well until the bill. It seemed a bit high.... Only afterwards we realised that we'd been charged separately for the desserts which should have been covered under the menu charge. A small mistake, which meant our meal cost more than it should have done, the price of a main course. All in all, I'll give the menu a miss next time and go off piste. The food is highly recommended, but Indian food in Brussels is not the cheaper option it is generally assumed to be in Britain.
Afterwards, too full to sleep, D and I went for a stroll. It was certainly the best tasting Indian I've had in Brussels, with plenty on the menu to tempt me back.
Let me know what you have and what you think. And if you've a favourite Indian you would recommend, then don't keep it secret: tell us about it!
192, Chaussée de Vleurgat