Here's a little tip that I learned the hard way: never eat chicken curry, mango chutney, and a full portion of basmati rice off a Dutch-style crepe. Especially if you're with your mother-in-law.
I know you think I'm the sort of fool who would describe a dosa as a "pancake" and get all squirmy-buttocked about "foreign" fried foods, but I do honestly mean a pancake—a sugar-and-lemon, circular-disc-of-eggy-flatness, easy-on-the-Nutella pancake. I ate curry off a pancake and lived to teach you the error of my ways.
As you will have no doubt noticed, today is Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day to its godless friends. Shrovetide, those two or three days leading up to Lent, were once apportioned for confession. Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists, and Catholics would all put down their frying pans for a moment to consider their need for repentance, decide what they would forgo until Easter, and then quickly whip up any of their more luxurious ingredients before Lent began in earnest.
These days, pancakes are one of the clearest manifestations of the EU vs US political schism to ever hit a hot plate. In The Land Of The Free (with Extreme Vetting) the pancake is a large, puffy frisbee, more akin to a giant pikelet. In Europe, a.k.a. In Varietate Concordia a.k.a. United by Diversity, pancakes tend to be flat, thin, and filled with everything from fromage to honig to eekhoorntjesbrood (the Dutch for "porcini mushrooms" literally translates as "little squirrels' bread.")
In order to find out just what you can put on a pancake without getting arrested, I decide to spend the Sunday before Pancake Day down at My Old Dutch pancake house in Central London, really pushing the batter envelope. I was expecting slagroom (whipped cream), perhaps some spiegelei (literally "mirror egg"), or a wentelteefjes (the Dutch for "eggy bread" has a rather misogynistic literal translation to English that I will spare you). Maybe even a slice of boterham. I bring my boyfriend—because who better to witness me disgracing myself over a fried joke than the man I love?—and his mum, my schoonmoeder.
Now, My Old Dutch isn't quite the tulip and clog fiasco you might be imagining but, by god, do they love Nutella. They are nuts for Nutella t-shirts, Nutella slogans on the window, and enough Nutella options on the menu to sink a small French campsite. As we sit down (in the basement because, apparently, 11 AM on a Sunday is when everyone in Zone One decides to go for pancakes), a small boy on the next table is smearing Nutella across a crepe with a knife while simultaneously trying to learn the suction-up-a-straw drink tasting technique so beloved by pretentious bar staff.
"Try some of their weirdest fillings," my editor had said. And so, with a heavy heart I look down across the choice of savoury pancakes. There is the chili con carne that comes with guacamole, sour cream, and actual tortilla chips; the halal Moroccan lamb stew with peas and carrots; a smoked duck option that includes hoi sin sauce; and a whole section dedicated to "bases" (I assume referring to pancakes, not the sexual stages of an American romance), including "fish" and pepperoni.
But by far and away the most arresting filling on the menu is that godawful chicken curry with basmati rice, mango chutney, and yogurt. I was powerless to resist.
To help rescue some enjoyment from proceedings, my boyfriend orders the MOD Classic—My Old Dutch's enormous, eponymous pancake that comes covered in peppers, bacon, chicken, ham, cheese, mushrooms, and sweetcorn. From the receipt, it sounds like he ordered a Best of the Kinks album. My mother-in-law wisely chooses a stack of butterscotch pancakes with strawberries, blueberries, maple syrup, and cream. Except they're out of blueberries (Brexit, I'm guessing), so replace them with blackberries.
Now, the thing about the chicken curry pancake, when it does finally arrive, is that it looks precisely like a pancake envelope full of vomit with a small ramekin of pilau rice on the side, nuzzled up against a wet paper cup of tooth-dissolvingly sweet mango chutney and some thin yogurt.
It actually tastes fine. If you pretend the pancake is more of an injera or dosa, and don't expect too much of the curry. It has loads of chicken in—almost nothing else in fact. But, after eating half of it, I have to admit defeat and give in. Sadly, our plates aren't cleared for at least another 20 minutes, during which time the smell of pancake curry starts to make me feel genuinely quite ill, not to mention sad. All I really wanted was a normal brunch. Sweet, savoury—I didn't really mind. But this "pan-continental" experiment in sugar, chicken, and egg is not making me happy.
Luckily, we had taken the precaution of ordering a Nutella chaser. This thin, crepe-like pancake is about the size of a steering wheel and comes with a small paper pot of Nutella. The pot is precisely the same sort as the one that, just half an hour earlier, had been holding my portion of mango chutney. This time, thank god, it is merely brown, thick, and pourable.
After paying and after heaving my by-now distended stomach up the stairs and out of the door into a fresh spring day, I have a moment of particularly Shrove-like reflection. I genuinely and deeply regret that chicken curry pancake. I repent, I lament, I bewail, I am remorseful, and honestly intend to sacrifice any future chicken curry pancakes that may lie in my path. This Lent—in fact, for every Lent from now on—I shall be giving up chicken curry pancakes completely. I hope to atone for my sins at My Old Dutch and live as an inspiration to you all.
As the Dutch would say: Ja bless.