The Beer Husband and I are going on our hols this weekend so I’m super excited. During my 20’s and 30’s I was a ‘fly and flop’ girl, picking up cheap package deals to anywhere hot in Southern Europe to fry myself to a crisp during the day, and drink green concoctions by night. It suited me at the time, I would park myself on a sunbed, trawl through dozens of paperbacks, and feel suitably smug when I returned looking slightly less white than a milk bottle.
This changed a few years ago when my adventure loving other half suggested going to India. He was bored with doing nothing on holiday throughout the day, and unlike me, wanted to experience a bit of culture, a bit of travelling round. I reluctantly agreed and having saved like mad, I subjected myself to a barrage of inoculations, purchased a set of conservative clothing (essential for a female travelling in India) and stocked up on Imodium. My Ma issued a warning about the white slave trade, human trafficking and drug addiction. I told her that could be any major UK city on a weekend night.
By nature, I’m not a risk taker or thrill seeker so this was a big step for me. I’m the person who checks the brakes on the car before descending a 1 in 4 hill, I never let the petrol gauge go below half full, I won’t enter the local kebab shop after the pubs have thrown out. I’m really quite… dull.
So India was a big deal for me. But from the moment we landed and got whizzed in a tuk-tuk at break neck speed through the smelly, noisy, colourful streets of downtown Delhi I was hooked. Even when we reached our hotel (hotel is perhaps too grand a word for it, I’ll be polite and call it ‘boarding room’), I relished how different it was to home. In attempting to save money we had gone economy, and our hotel was in the middle of a district which just sold car parts and tyres. Hundreds of them. Tyres, exhaust pipes, radiators, you name it, if you had a clapped out car, you could buy a spare part within half a mile of our accommodation.
With trepidation, we ventured out on our first morning into central Delhi using their amazing public transport system. Their rail network puts us to shame: clean, on time, and cheap as chips. The carriages were gender segregated so we had to part on the platform but my other half reassured me that he always had me in sightline as I was like a giraffe, head and shoulders visible above the local women.
Central Delhi was sensory overload, I can’t even begin to bring to life the sights, sounds and smells with words. Realising my somewhat retrospective nature, the Beer Husband spotted a rooftop bar which advertised ‘world beers’. More my comfort zone. And to my delight, this bar had a beer menu. It had Marston’s Pedigree, Beamish Stout, Duvel, Old Speckled Hen, and –joy- Fullers ESB (albeit, all bottled).
When I look back over the SFTW pieces I’ve written, I’ve realised how many British beers I’ve matched with spicy, ethnic foods. How well the juicy sweetness of home grown malt compliments the spices in cuisine from other countries. How refreshing the earthy, grassy, floral hops from our home counties cut through the heat of dishes from a faraway land.
That first day, we had Fullers ESB, a 5.5% beer with a fiery vegetable Biryani. The outstanding marmalade-y orange characteristics of this superb beer soothed the heat of the chillies in the dish, its strength never faltered against the robust flavours in the food.
We are so often conditioned to think that a lager will perfectly match hot food, but that’s so not the case. Lager will enhance the heat of chilli, and retrospectively, the lager will taste more bitter than it’s intended to be. A solid traditional British ale is brilliant, and resonates with the colonial tradition of good beer matched with good food. The more we champion getting decent beer into ethnic restaurants, the better. Be it cask, or bottled.
This weekend, we’re going out to South Africa. We’ve now eschewed all other holidays and we save like mad for one big trip a year. One of my first points of call is going to be Devils Peak Brewery who have started a collaboration brewing project in the UK with Fierce Brewery in Aberdeen, to reproduce historical British styles of beer. Biltong, Braai and Bunny Chow, here I come!