Indian curry in London
By Vijay Rana, former producer at the BBC's Hindi service and editor of historytalking.com
Chicken tikka masala is Britain's favourite curry dish and it is said to have been invented by a Bangladeshi chef.
It is supposed to be an Indian dish, yet nobody in India knows about it. Meanwhile in Britain, Marks & Spencer sells about 19 tonnes of the chicken tikka masala curry every week and 23 million portions a year are sold in Britain's more than 8,000 Indian restaurants, half of them located in and around London.
What is a curry?
A curry is the generic term for almost any kind of meat or vegetable cooked in a spicy gravy.
Chicken tikka masala, in particular, is a simple preparation of chicken cooked in tomato sauce, cream, yoghurt, with lots of turmeric and cumin.
Apparently, an English man was served with curryless chicken and wondered: "where is the curry?" A quick thinking chef apologised and soon returned with a well-cooked chicken dipped in creamed tomato sauce and of course doubled in price.
Today it is impossible to imagine a high street in the UK without an Indian restaurant offering curry. But the Indian restaurants are not really Indian as more then 65% of them are owned by Bangladeshis.
Their forefathers began to arrive in London, from what was then the Bengal province of India, as early as the mid-17th century.
They were in fact seamen, employed in the East India Company's ships. As these ships went back to India, some of these Indians were left behind, often through neglect. Many of these destitute people died in the cold climate; others may have started cooking meals.
According to The Epicure's Almanac it was Dean Mahomet, a gentleman from Patna, Bihar, who opened the first Indian restaurant, the Hindostanee Coffee House in Portman Square in 1773. He offered for the 'nobility and gentry' the enjoyment of 'Indian dishes of the highest perfection'.
Recommended areas and dishes
A couple of miles north of Portman Square is Drummond Street, where one can find Indian sweets; the finest fish curry, which is called maharashtrian bhelpuri, and, of course chicken tikka masala.
When it comes to sheer volume of restaurants, nothing can beat Brick Lane. Almost every other shop has been transformed into a curry restaurant, decorated with flashing neon lights.
In front of every restaurant one finds polite British-born Asians from the Bangla Town inviting you to enjoy the curry experience. You can find inexpensive curry meals and you will be allowed to wash it down with your own pint of beer.
Curryholics who dare to venture into suburbs will also be rewarded with regional Indian food. Ealing Road in Wembley has almost every variety of food that you would find in the western Indian state of Gujarat, for example.
Punjabi food: Southall
If you love the hot Punjabi food, you will have to visit Southall in west London, endearingly called Little India.
Like any traditional Indian bazaar you can have freshly made hot jalebis for morning breakfast or samosa and aloo ki tikki as afternoon snacks. In the evening, have a pint in the Glassy Junction – the only pub in England that accepts payment in India Rupees.
Recently, the money making potential of curry has been recognised by the big stores. Marks & Spencer and Sainsburys have more than 70 kinds of dishes on their shelves.
Their specialist teams are scurrying from Kerala to Kashmir to Gujarat to Bengal to find out about regional Indian food and bring it back to Britain.
To have such a wide choice of foods one would have to travel thousands of miles in India. In London, however, you have every regional Indian food within a thirty mile radius.
Address: Drummond Street, London NW1. Tube: Euston.
Brick Lane, E1. Tube: Aldgate East.
The Broadway, Southall, UB1. Rail: Southall Rail.
BBC site: A curry feast
BBC site: India gets a taste of UK tikka
BBC site: Japan orders curry
BBC site: Madhur Jaffrey's recipes
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