"The greatest Indian cook in Britain"Jay Rayner "The Observer"
"Cook with love. Love your cooking" Gita Mistry

Monday, 30 March 2015

Why does the UK love eating Indian food?

Why does the UK love eating Indian food? Salivating at the thought of a good curry.... I quote you " Oh I love tarkha dhal; it's my favourite but I don't like lentils usually, " I cant do without my bajias and pakoras every week"  and "oh there is nothing like a good chicken curry" There was even a song created about it for England's campaign song in the 1998 Football World Cup.

" Friends visit my home city of  Bradford's and we often go out  for curry . On many occasion we have visited The Kashmir 1958 .Bradford s oldest curry house and I recommend their fish pakoras at £2.80 a plate full. Or Punjab sweet  and Grill centre where they serve a wonderful chicken and okra curry and a hugh selection of Indian sweets and if Bradford City football team are playing  round the corner we head to the Sweet Centre on Lumb Lane serving  very tasty samosas. In fact, the world's largest curry restaurant is also in Bradford; called the Akash and it boats a 750 seater dinning room.

Though we call it an Indian actually most of these restaurants in Bradford have their culinary roots firmly attached to - Kashmir. In London and the south, Indian restaurant are generally from a  Bangladeshi heritage. Glasgow restaurateurs are mostly from the Punjabi region and Manchester & Birmingham restaurants have predominant Pakistani owners.

Where ever the regional origins, there are over 12000  Indian restaurants in Britain today compared with a humble 6 restaurants in 1939. A industry that is worth 4 billion pounds to the British economy and  its still on the up. It seems that where a curry may have once been eaten on the rare occasion in household it now become habitual, a ritual in most UK homes. And this industry has aggressively developed over the last 60 years. "An enterprise backed by the government...." as  David Cameron said at the last curry awards". "The Oscars of  British Curry."  That is not to say that Indian food and spices have not been consumed before then in the UK. As the following examples history show :-

  • An English cook book published in the 14 Century  was all about hot food called The Forme of cury. The word cury  being from the French word curie meaning to cook.  The book lists using: black pepper, cinnamon, glove, cumin, coriander saffron to name but a few in the recipes.
  • The East Indian Trading company set up for Britain to trade goods with the Indian subcontinent in the 17 Century. It was not only trade that increased but a interest in Indian food and recipes which were taken back to Britain. Curry powder was available commercially from 1780.
  • .The first curry recipe in English was published by Hannah Glasse in English in 1747.
  •  In fact the first Indian cafe in London was opened in 1809 Hindustani owner by Sake dean Mohamed in London
  • Mrs Beetons curry powder recipe published in her book 1861. Household Management.
  • I recently learnt about Colonel Arthur Kenney- Herbert, a British soldier who served in the British Indian army. He wrote articles on Indian food and published a book in 1878. His book focused on how to cook British and European dishes under Indian conditions. Later on his return to Britain he started a cookery school based in Sloane Street in London in 1894.
When the Hindustan Coffee House closed in 1812, there were curries and spicy food on some menus of the more willing & accepting restaurateurs alongside their English Menus until the oldest surviving Indian Restaurant The Veerswamy opened its doors in 1926. Although it took just over a century for next Indian restaurant to open in the UK , the relationship never really severed; the was there was a constant desire for curries and spicy food as you can see from my findings. Curry and chips, a post 2nd World War idea, was produced by Indian sailors who bought old cafes and chip shops which had been wrecked during the War. They adapted the curry recipe for a post- pub crowd and it became and national institution raising the awareness of British people to spicy food. 

So why do we have such an infinity with Indian cuisine in the UK? One theory is that the dishes are mildly addictive- and have a bit of a bite to them and are very affordable to dine out on. Another theory is the history between the Indian Sub Continent and the UK. Soldiers from British Army based in Indian and their families enjoyed the cuisine and desired Indian food on their return to Britain which started the love affair we have today. Others say that the Indian dishes are becoming more and more authentic so the desire and appreciation for  Indian food is on the up and that more people regularly cook curries at home in helping keeping the  industry alive with greater appreciation . I know that a lot of Indian curry houses in Bradford do not sell alcohol on their premises to customers. However they don’t mind if a customer brings in beers and wines in to their establishment to accompany their meals, which makes a family outing very affordable. Whatever the reason we are eating Indian food in bucketfuls and there is no stopping us.

I would love to hear from you! Why you eat curry and is the experience any different to other cuisines you eat? How often you eat curry? And how you feel at the thought of going out for one... send me a response on gita@gitamistryfood.co.uk

I look forward to hearing from you about your curry habits....

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