Friday, April 23, 2010

Give them curry!

by Geoffrey Carrascalao Heard

I seem to be going on about food a bit. It’s not that I’m totally obsessed with the sustenance of the old bod, it’s more that I’m interested in cooking and good food -- if you’re going to pig out, at least do it with quality, I always say -- and I’ve been having some gastronomic adventures worthy, I think, of note.

Last night I went with a couple of blokes, Peter, a 20 year resident, and Chris, a one week resident, a business volunteer, to one of the major hotels. We looked at the menu and the offerings in the bain marie and yawned.

Curry, we thought, was the go. As a 20 year resident, Peter was our leader, and he took us to a restaurant simply named Ang. Like many restaurants and retail establishments in Port Moresby, this place was situated in the midst of a pretty much darkened industrial estate. Corrugated iron warehouses and the like. You know about it because you work in the vicinity or someone has told you.

Unprepossessing to the point of total ugliness on the outside, unprepossessing on the inside. Think your average suburban Chinese restaurant, come down a couple or three notches, and you have an idea of the decor.

Apart from family, only two other tables were taken. It didn’t look like a location to challenge the taste buds.

“It’s packed at lunch time,” our guide assured us, “and I’ve never had a bad meal here.”

Things looked even more average when the cheerful waitress told us there was no beef but Peter held his nerve in the face of our disbelieving stare and ordered around that. He kept the brave face going through an unusually long wait (for a Chinese restaurant) for our order.

Then the prawns came out, which kept us quiet, and after another ten minutes, our fish, curried chicken, vegetables and a generous serving of rice appeared in quick succession.

Friends, I have to tell you that if heaven is like this, I’m an instant believer.

The deep fried prawns were delicious. I would rate them second only to the prawns I had a few weeks ago at Asian Aromas in the centre of Port Moresby, and I freely rate those as the best prawns I have ever had.

The rice was just right -- as it should be but isn’t always; the fish was red emperor cooked to perfection -- almost too good to eat; the vegetables were fresh and crisp and full of flavor; and the chicken curry...

Well, the less said about me and that curry the better. I can state with confidence that it was not a pretty sight. I do feel, however, that the other two blokes were hardly playing the game when they insisted that a third of the dish was a “fair” share. I mean, they’re both as skinny as rakes and hardly need food at all, really, while I have some substance to support. And I did let them have their “fair” share of the fish and veg!

And what did this delight cost the three of us in the end? With a beer each and Chinese tea included, K55 a head -- about $22. I was nice about that, I let them pay their fair share of the total.

In the course of all this, Peter told us that Port Moresby has a Curry Lunch Club. The members gallop out of their offices and whatnot at 12 noon to consume lahksa (...and mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun!). They work their way around a circuit of 15 restaurants in Port Moresby and suburbs. Fifteen! Not a bad number for a smallish city. Not all the very best, Peter said, but certainly at least good enough.

One of the places Chris and I had already discovered, the Cellar Restaurant in the Shady Rest Hotel. Actually there’s no hotel name sign out front, you drive down Taurama Road and identify the place by the sign saying “Hotel Room Sale Now On” and the other sign saying “Curry Club”. The decor is faux Spanish (or was that Austrian?), but it is now run by Sri Lankans who make a pretty successful curry -- definitely worth a second, third and further visits after that.

The Lamana Hotel -- with rooms at K650/night, a three level night club with the DJ suspended more or less in space, and conference rooms with names like Aphrodite 1 and 2 -- has a very nice dining room with excellent service and good food -- including some good but not inspired curries -- at the K35-45 main course level.

But whoa -- forget the decor, the perfectly outfitted waitresses. Think suburban-minus decor, cheerful service and those prawns, that fish, the veg, and most of all, that chicken curry...

Think Ang!


This material is copyright © Geoffrey Carrascalao Heard 2010.

Geoffrey Heard worked in media in Papua New Guinea in the 1960s and 1970s and has just returned to that country as an Australian Volunteer supported by AusAID working with the Media Council of Papua New Guinea. The opinions and comments in this article are his own and do not represent the views of the Media Council of PNG, Australian Volunteers International, or AusAID.

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