The Brit and his curry

No I am not talking about the electronics superstore in UK called Curry’s or the popular English surname Curry, but about the curry that you have with rice, Naan… Curry is that one 'food family' which has taken this whole nation hostage

Defined by David Smith as follows in his
website -

"A dish made with dried and fresh spices cooked in oil with a sauce made from pureed onions, garlic and ginger. The variety of spices used can be extensive but the commonest are chilli, cumin, coriander and turmeric. Other common ingredients are yoghurt, cream and ground nuts."

It has displaced Fish and chips as the UK national dish. Having lived in the UK, I can attest to the following fact, without a curry ‘take out’ every week, the average Brit is lost. So much so that we were in a Chinese restaurant the other day at Jacksonville USA and my Brit boss (he left England 20 years ago and lives in Canada) was asking the waiter if he knew what lemon pickle was, since he wanted to add some to his food for taste. When the American waiter expressed total surprise, he went on to explain how a proper hamburger should be eaten, take out the ‘rubbish’ lettuce and tomato, leave the onion there, add a dollop of good Pathak’s or Rajah ‘extra hot’ lime (not lemon) pickle. Munch into the burger and you will be transported to heaven- My man….… well was I taken aback! I know, my Pattar friends used to spread pickle over the bland ‘pizza hut pizza’ for taste, but this was another dimension.

We Indians hated the curry in England though, they had no variety, go to any curry place, you will have vegetables, chicken, mutton or fish added to four to five standard pastes that they buy in bulk (from one or two main suppliers in UK) the Tikka masala paste, the Korma paste, the vindaloo masala paste, jalfrezi/Pasanda or the madras curry masala pastes. It was never made fresh off the ingredients. Well of course they had Indian lager in those places, typically Kingfisher….but ask a Brit, this is the right curry wherever he goes, even if he were in New Delhi, he would prefer curry from back home in the Blighty made by the Bangladeshi cooks (?) who have taken over the whole curry scene in UK.

Imagine going to the average British pub, look into the menu or be at the bar – you see IPA the main draft off the tap…Indian pale ale…look into the food menu, you will see curries and stuff like that. The best sandwiches that vanish off the shelves of a Marks & Spencers? Chicken tikka sandwich!!!(those are good, man, I can attest to them)

Looking at the
history of curry, you can see that the word comes from Tamil. The first taster who re corded it in a travelogue is a Dutch guy who came to India in 1598, calling it Kariel. The British always had a problem with the R, so they termed it Khadi, in the 1600’s….Now talking of the English staple, it is the CTM or Chicken tikka masala. How that came about is interesting. M&S sell 18 tones a week, can you believe that? There are books written about Curry and the UK, but well, you can’t beat the fact that the CTM is now being exported from UK to India….

Chicken Tikka Masala was most certainly invented in Britain, probably by a Bangaldeshi chef, and is so popular it is even being served in some hotel restaurants in India and Bangladesh. Another Brit specialty is the Balti dish – quite local to Birmingham.

‘Curry’ has not looked back since and was recently named the British National dish after a major opinion poll by Gallup. It is interesting to note that the Portuguese, Dutch and even the French were in India long before or concurrently with the English and yet it was Britain that readily adopted curry, not the others..

“Ninety nine per cent of Indians do not have a tandoor and so neither Tandoori Chicken nor Naan are part of India’s middle class cuisine. This is even so in the Punjab, although some villages have communal tandoors where rotis can be baked. Ninety five per cent of Indians don’t know what a vindaloo, jhal farezi or, for that matter, a Madras curry is”.

And the English make it a point to visit the various ‘curry miles’ as they call it in the UK. There are the curry miles in Birmingham, Eastham London, Manchester Rusholme, and of course many a mile in the Bradford area. They even have
curry courses to revive the original art.

Like I said, the Brits love their curry. Some get it airlifted while on vacation in
Portugal, some airlift it all the way across the Atlantic to the USA, prepared of course in the UK, not India, each spending a few thousand pounds for a meal. Or there is the guy who blamed the curry for his 105 mph drive down the motorway, which the judge did not take kindly to..But nothing to beat this Brit who wanted UK Curry while at New Delhi and had it flown in!!!

This one link will tell you how much the Brit loves his curry,
he even wants his toothpaste (not just chips& biscuits) with Curry flavor, well well!! I guess it will only become more popular now that the Chilli, Cumin & Turmeric are supposed to help one live longer and help avoid colon & many other cancers.

7th of November is the ‘National curry day’ in UK…A reporter states - The cold chill of autumn is now upon us and the nights are drawing in, but take heart, a yearly event to warm us all up is just around the corner. Tuesday 7th November is Kingfisher National Curry Day, when Brits across the land have a great excuse to eat Vindaloos, Tikas and Jalfrezis to their hearts content, as well as raising vital money for charity…

And, you know you've been in UK too long when... After a big night out you find yourself looking for a Curry house, not a 24 hour McDonalds or you keep your red curry paste recipe under lock and key...but have no clue how to roast a chicken.

The best name for a take out joint, I have come across – Curry in a Hurry

Long live the Curry…..The Queen recently knighted the Curry King, Ghulam Noon for his efforts.


diyadear said...

Indian food rocks!!! i say its the best in the whole world :)

Maddy said...

well, diya, I certainly agree that for me as well, Indian food is great...but well, 'to each unto his own', try telling an italian that indian food is better than italian....mama mia!!I wont stick around in the vicinity

Anonymous said...

Hi Diya

I'm a Brit and a "curry" lover, but I have to disagree with your assertion that the so-called "Indian" restaurants in the UK make their curries using bought-in pastes and bases. I come from Oxford, where we have a wide range of ethnic restaurants... all the BI restaurants around here make their own pastes and bases, and the diversity is astonishing! And we're getting a fair number of restaurants opening up which are offering regional non-BIR dishes... I had an exquisite Gujerati dish just a few days ago.

I've worked extensively in the Middle and Far East over the years, and the different variations each region adds to the basic idea of "curry" is refreshing. I think one of the best of such meals I've had was at a little eaterie in Sri-Lanka; a delicious local meal, washed-down with a pint of Lion beer... what ,ore could anyone want!

Best of luck with your blog :-)

Maddy said...

thanks paul - btw the name is maddy.

i used to live in stafford & have been to many indian-bangla-pakistani eateries (usually balti & tandoor places) around uk (including oxford). while i agree that there are a few places which cook from scratch, most use pastes & precooked meat.

Yes, u are right Gujarati places are an exception, e.g in leceister where you get proper stuff, or like you said, the sri lankan places in London (eastham). These are places where there is heavy competition and a good standard has to be maintained..also a differentiator has to be there for people to come often.