A cemetery in deepest East London might seem like a strange place to start this post, but I do have a life outside of taking pictures of my lunch. Even if it happens to be taking pictures of gravestones en route to taking pictures of my lunch. I promise, this does get better....
The reason for ending up in Barking on a sunny Monday Morning in June goes back a few years, to my previous incarnation working in public libraries. During that time I had become involved in curating an exhibition that commemorated the centenary of the start of WW1. A fascinating and sobering project that lead me to start to research something about my own family, culminating in discovering my great-grandfather, Private Harry Roscoe MM.
Harry was born in Wigan circa 1890 although, by 1914, he had ended up in Romford, married to my great-grandmother, Florence, and with a son, Alan. My grandfather. Alan isn't around anymore, and there is no one else left to ask how or why Harry ended up in Essex but, as my colleague so succinctly put it; 'in those days, it would be for work or a woman'.
In 1915 Harry had enlisted to the West Ham Pals, aka 13th Battalion of the Essex Regiment, and by the end of the year had been sent to France to fight. The battalion were involved in many battles of the Great War, including at Vimy Ridge, Cambrai and the Battle of the Somme, and it was here that Harry won the Military Medal for gallantry. Awarded for an act of outstanding courage or devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy.
The excerpt above shows the war diary from the week Harry was recommended for his honour. A scan kindly provided to me by Elliot Taylor, who has a blog and has written a book about the Pals.
Harry died in December 1918, a month after the war had ended, most likely of his injuries. A pointless loss in a pointless war. My granddad was four. My great-grandmother remarried the following year, and Harry was never spoken of again. As my granddad never really spoke much about the past, we don't even know if he knew about Harry, or where he was interred.
While it's a bittersweet story, I have to say I felt quite touched to finally find Harry's grave - commissioned by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission whose work ensures that men and women of the Commonwealth forces who died in the First and Second World Wars are not forgotten - and be able to give thanks for the sacrifices he, and many others, have made for our freedom.
Of course, I couldn't go all that way without thinking about what I was going to eat next and fortunately Thattukada, one of Eater's recent recommended restaurants, was just two stops away on the District Line.
Thattukada is a basic no frills Keralan restaurant - with a nod to God's own country evidenced by the pictures of vallam kali, the state's annual snake boat race, that cover the walls - that offers a selection of home cooked favourites that brings homesick Keralans to eat from all across London.
I started with a mango lassi which, in the absence of a dessert menu, also served as pudding. There's nothing more glorious to accompany food from the Indian subcontinent (ok, maybe on par with an icy cold lager). Sweet and tangy and fragrant and providing a soothing balm for the tongue after a surfeit of chilli spice.
The chicken fry or, to give it its full name, the Thattukada Special Nandan (Traditional) Chicken Fry Half (Kerala Style) 10 pieces, is becoming a bit of a signature dish. A whole (or half) chicken is expertly cleaved into bite-sized chunks on the bone, before being marinated in a lurid spice paste glowing with chilli. It's then deep fried and covered in a dreft of golden fried onions.
This tasted as excellent as it looks. Crisp, hot, salty, spicy. It was surprisingly effortless to eat ten pieces to myself. Maybe because I'm some kind of heathen, I really wanted something to dip this in. Some kind of yogurt-based dip perhaps; or just a big squirt of mayo, if I'm honest. But then I do drown my KFC in the Colonel's gravy. So what do I know.
I almost passed on ordering the appam, which would have been an error as these were the finest I have tried. Spongy and slightly sour, the plain version - they are also available filled with condensed milk or a whole egg, steamed into the centre - are particularly good for helping scoop up curry with your fingers. As evidenced by many of the patrons who were there on my visit. Luckily they took pity on me and kindly also provided a fork without asking.
The utensils were something that was in everybody's interests, as my attempts to eat the fish moilee - a deep and fragrant coconut based curry with cashew nuts and tomatoes and a the beautifully cooked kingfish steak that fell from the bone - would have been less than couth with out them. Although, in all honesty, if no one else was around I would have happily licked the bowl clean.
Oh, and for the record, the long green things were not beans, but chillies. Something that I found out when I ate a whole one. And, for the second time that day, I had a tear in my eye. Good food and family; sometimes there is nothing finer.