Serves me right, for walking around the university pool and locker room barefoot. I’ll spare you the details of how it’s corroding my left toes. Once that thing starts to fester, hermetically sealed inside sock and shoe on another soupy day, it becomes like a tropical rain forest in there. Where all sorts of creatures thrive.
But that’s it for new physical afflictions. (Beyond the hyperhidrosis.)
Culinarily speaking, however, I’ve developed a more serious habit.
Curry. It surrounds me in Hong Kong. Mostly vegetable, some meat, some seafood, in all sizes and shapes. Not just Indian, but Malaysian. Indonesian. Vietnamese. Thai. You put me in any Asian restaurant out here, and my eyes are magnetically drawn to the curried offerings. Naturally, I had to try the “Jordan Curry House,” here in my eponymously named neighborhood.
What is it about this spice – in its milder form, thanks – that has me in its clutches? Maybe it’s as simple as yearning for forbidden fruit. But I’ve also come to see it as a metaphor for multi-cultural Hong Kong, then and now.
Growing up in northern New Jersey, Indian wasn’t in my parents’ repertoire of ethnic tastes: Middle Eastern, Greek, Chinese, Jewish and paprika-spiced Hungarian now and then. (Jaj, csirke paprikás!)
It’s also a question of environment: I just don’t remember many South Asian restaurants in our suburbs. Certainly, nowhere near its cultural ubiquity in Britain. It’s from British television that I first heard the verb “to have a curry.”
For me, Indian was something I always enjoyed when eaten, but didn’t seek out.
Then, trauma. My wife’s first pregnancy. An Indian meal that didn’t sit too well. And her lasting gag-reflex to even the thought of eating a curry dish.
As a result, in paprika-loving Central Europe, I only visit Indian restaurants on the sly, when out solo or with friends. (Fortunately, one of Bratislava’s finest restaurants is Indian.)
In Hong Kong last year, I quickly discovered how popular it is among the Chinese, and present in far more cuisines than I’d imagine. Now it dawns on me: curry embodies the unique history of Hong Kong.
Curry also symbolizes the 19th century colonialization of Hong Kong: scores of South Asians arrived with the British – as troops, for trade, and other jobs. Even today, tens of thousands of Hong Kong-born “foreigners” rremain here under Chinese rule.
Some, thankfully, opened restaurants. And I’m sampling them, one by one.