The Festival of South Asia took over the streets of Little India last weekend, reminding me of all the time I've spent taking endless packages and jars manufactured thousands of miles away off endless shelves on Gerrard Street, in search of the masala mix of my dreams. But I have finally found the curry grail.
It's been a long and bland road. Curry was just a green powder my mother sprinkled from a can when I was a little kid, but it sure made hamburger stew taste good. I assumed there was a curry berry somewhere, or curry mines.
The family of my first girlfriend, Shamim, made fantastic curries. They were my first experience with that great Moslem tradition of generosity to guests - always with the big pot on the stove. Potatoes, beef and spinach simmered to curry-saturated tenderness.
When I discovered Little India, my beloved and I would pile the kids on the back of our bikes and pedal down for a curry fix. My kids loved it even when it was super-hot - they'd cry and eat it anyway. With a whole family to keep in curry, the need to learn to make it became ever more pressing. That was when I began my obsessive rummaging through Indian grocery stores.
Curry, I learned, derives from the Tamil word "kari," meaning soup. It is not, I discovered, a berry. Nor is it a yellow mineral mined in the spice belts of Delhi. In fact, it's not just one spice but a blend reputedly put together by the Buddha himself as a medicine in aid of balance and longevity. He may have been right - recent research indicates that cumin is a powerful free-radical scavenger.
Nor is there any one secret formula. There are as many curries as there are curry masters and correct curries for designated foods. Fish, fowl or vegetable, each has its own plethora of dedicated spice combos. Curry is manifold, complex - a worldwide, pan-cultural phenomenon. How like us, I thought. The people here in the city, aren't we just a big mix of spices currying each other up, making us tasty? Our skins may vary in colour, but cut us open and we are all slightly saffron inside.
None of this helped me, though. My home curries were still substandard. The discovery of Pataks bottled curry paste was a giant leap forward, and I learned to curry just about everything. But it wasn't like the stuff they served in Indiatown. How do they do it?
Then my spectacular discovery. I am not in any way a spokesperson, an employee or a stockholder in the company I'm about to name, but the curry I found is it. I've had stews going for weeks, and they've all been fabulous. Saags, aloo gobis, muttar paneers. Don't ask me - ask those I feed. They rave and scarf away.
Thank you, curry scientists, whose sacrifice over many generations finally led to this epitome curry. Thank you, all those who died in the curry wars, who toil in the curry peace. You are curry in a sari, you are a maharajah of coriander.
Initially, I considered keeping this secret to myself or at least holding several house parties first, revelling in my chef-ship. But frankly, this needs to be out there. It would be like holding back a necessary medicine.
So - it's called Shan's. It comes in a little box about the size of a cigarette package. Just follow the directions. But remember - you can't hurry curry. Cook it long and slow and let the juices mingle, just as the spices linger and mingle. What you get is the taste of democracy and polytheism, balance and bravado. So tell a friend to tell a friend, and we will be one big happy curry nation. And don't forget to say, "Thank you, India."