My maternal family came to settle in the UK in 1958 from South India, where coconuts, mangoes, curry leaves and a host of other fresh spices had grown in our garden. In those early days it was impossible to find fresh ingredients in our area, even a tin of coconut milk. So my Nan grew her own and I remember a small kitchen constantly filled with chillies and garlic drying from the shelves and the scent of turmeric ever-present. Tea and spices were brought back from India with any family visit and I remember my Nan’s delight when we could finally buy mangoes locally, even if they weren’t the mouth-watering Alfonso variety.
Years later and with a thirst for travel, I worked as a trek and cultural guide for over a decade. During this time I was lucky to work in over 30 countries, where I was excited to discover new cuisines and fabulous ingredients, explore local markets and eat in some wonderful restaurants. Most of all, I loved sitting in the cook tents and watching as our cooks produced the most amazing food. The conditions may be basic, food may have been carried for 10 days or more, but these kitchens are as organised as any professional kitchen that I’ve visited, and you tell me how many cooks can produce great tasting food and birthday cakes at 5000 metres and minus 20 ºC – all delivered with a smile.
So the Hilltop Curries are inspired by my travels and visits to my family in India, and all my aunts and the people who have taught me along the way. I hope you enjoy them as much as my family do.