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23 July 2014
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Immigration and Emigration
Birmingham's balti triangle

Indian restaurants in Britain

Abdul Waheed
Abdul Waheed opened his restaurant in 1970
© Courtesy of Mr R Waheed
From its outset, Indian cuisine in Britain was adapted to cater for Western tastes. The first recorded Indian restaurant opened in London in 1809. The Hindoostanee Coffee House was designed to give customers a taste of the Raj; colonial decor with colonially influenced food. It was not an outstanding success however, closing just five years after it opened.

The modern-day Indian-Bangladeshi restaurant owes its existence to the Bangladeshi 'lascars', or sailors. Many of the sailors were also ship cooks and began opening eateries in clusters around English ports in the late 1920s. These restaurants initially catered for other sailors in port and early Bangladeshi settlers, and rapidly became places of Bangladeshi employment.
Birmingham vegetable market
The balti uses fresh vegetables and fresh spices
© Courtesy of Marketing Birmingham
As a result of their popularity with English customers, menus were adapted and the Bangladeshi tradition of Indian restaurants was born. Current estimates suggest that around 90% of Indian restaurants in Britain are owned and run by Bangladeshis.

The next crop of Indian restaurants sprung up in the 1960s. Immigrants from the Indian sub-continent were attracted by Britain's post-war economic boom. The shortage of labour experienced by the country meant that industrial centres such as Birmingham were magnets for immigrants in search of employment. Some, such as Mohammed Ajaib, found themselves living in a crowded house, cooking traditional food for their fellow country-men. The logical next step was to open a restaurant.


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