Curry may be commonly associated with hearty Indian stews served over rice, but it’s actually one of the world’s most versatile and well-travelled spices. From delicate to bold, savory to sweet, and all the unexpected flavors in between, more than 300 Houston diners experienced just how diverse curry—which simply means "spice blend"—can be at the Third Annual Curry Crawl on Sunday, May 18 at CityCentre.
Hosted by chef John Sikhattana of Straits, the event featured curry-inspired creations from 14 Houston area chefs of both brick-and-mortar restaurants and food trucks. Proceeds from ticket sales went to benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society—a cause dear to Sikhattana, whose sister died of Leukemia.
“Most people are only familiar with the generic yellow curry, but there are so many different kinds. Curry is such a broad spice—we use eight different kinds for our menu at Straits,” Sikhattana said. “I wanted to get a bunch of local chefs together for a good cause to showcase their creativity and to demonstrate how many different ways you can cook with curry. We invited the food trucks out this year to shake things up.”
In previous years, Sikhattana said they mistakenly planned the event too late in the season when guests were sweating out the curry and clamoring for more water. This year, pleasantly cool temperatures and gentle breezes prevailed and invited guests to enjoy Straits’ outdoor spaces instead of seeking the AC. The crawl drew diners of all ages and some familiar faces including one face famously obstructed by his iconic beard and shades: Houston’s own Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top.
Participating chefs included Edward Hoyos of Chi'Lantro BBQ, Pak Tsui from Fat Bao, Don Schoenburg of Gastro Punk, Matthew Pak of Golden Grill Food Truck, Jason Hill and Matt Opaleski of H-Town StrEATs Food Truck, Adison Lee of Kuu, Adrian de la Cerda of Ladybird Food Truck, Cat Huynh of Les Ba'Get Food Truck, Nathan Chang of Oh My Gogi! BBQ, Anthony Calleo of Pi Pizza Truck and the Sandy Witch Sandwich Company, LaVar Robinson of Reigns Food Truck, Seth Greenberg of Springbok Restaurant, and Susie Jimenez of Trenza.
Various taco interpretations were popular, including Anthony Callelo’s Houston neighborhood-inspired “Hilcroft by Way of Crosstimbers,” a slow-roasted curried pulled pork with Granny Smith apple raita. Imaginative flavor combinations included Pak Tsui’s coffee curry braised brisket made from Fat Bao sister company’s line of coffee; H-Town StrEATs’s curried spiced donut holes with mango jam; and Sweet Houston’s cardamom chocolate tarts. Springbock’s Seth Greenberg gave diners a history lesson by introducing “bunny chow,” a dish used by Indian sugar cane plantation workers in South Africa who would transport their curries to the work site in bread loaves. No worries, though: no bunnies were harmed in Springbock’s beef bunny chow.
Throughout all the curry tasting, guests were able to cleanse their palates with Grey Goose Melon vodka signature cocktails, craft beer, and wines from La Marca and Ecco Domani.
This year’s winners curried favor with the judges and the crowd by integrating flavors into comfort food and Latin favorites. The judges awarded the top prize to Matthew Pak of the Golden Grill Food Truck for his grilled cheese sandwich with Japanese curry braised pork, smoked Gouda, house pickles, and apple jam. Pak said he honed his adventurous spirit with flavor combinations at Benjy’s before he started his own food truck.
“Because curry is an aromatic spice, I think it works well with sweet spices like cinnamon,” said Pak. “We specialize in comfort food, and you can’t get any more comforting than grilled cheese and apple jam .”
The crowd favorite award went to Trenza chef Susie Jimenez for her lamb vindaloo tostada with cabbage and fennel slaw. “It was great to have the judges taste our food, but I was really honored that so many of the people chose my lamb vindaloo as their favorite," said Jimenez. "I went home pretty happy."