Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Curry 200 years old in Britain

It is exactly 200 years since the first curry house opened in Britain and launched a cuisine that has arguably one of the most popular in the country. Sake Dean Mahomed [1759-1851], an Indian migrant opened Britain's first curry house to cater for the fashion for spicy food. A newspaper advert printed in 1809 ran with the line, "Indian dishes, in the highest perfection… unequalled to any curries ever made in England." The clientèle to the Hindostanee Coffee House could smoke hookah pipes and recline on bamboo-cane sofas as they ate the spicy dishes [BBC].

In one sense, it was not the first time Indian cuisine had been offered to the English. A handful of coffee houses served curries alongside their usual fare, and in the gracious homes of returnees, ladies attempted to recreate dishes and condiments their families enjoyed on the sub-continent. Some wrote out their own recipes while others may have used one of the many editions of Hannah Glasse's The Art of Cookery, first published in 1747, which contained recipes for curries and pilaus.

However, the Hindostanee Coffee House is considered to be the first proper Indian restaurant and a plaque hangs in George Street, London. However his venture was not entirely successful and by the start of the Second World War in 1939, there were still only six curry houses in Britain. At least one remains today however. 

The Veeraswamy, opened by Anglo-Indian Edward Palmer at the British Empire Exhibition of 1924, became so popular that it moved to Regent Street where to this day it is frequently fully booked.

By 1982 there were 3,500 curry restaurants in Britain. Today there are more than 12,000. More than 80% are run not by Indians but by Bangladeshis. Of all the meals eaten at restaurants around two-thirds are at Indian restaurants and Britains spend more than £5 million a day and eat 205 million poppadoms [or papadums - most items of Indian cuisine have variations on their name] every year.

The popularity of Indian cuisine has even resulted in curry being regarded as Britain's national dish. One in seven curries sold in Britain is chicken tikka masala, a dish that is disputed in its true origins. The cross-cultural popularity of the dish in Britain led former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook to proclaim it as "Britain's true national dish". Chicken tikka masala is even exported to the likes of India and Bangladesh. 

The taste for a curry is unlikely to dwindle amongst the British. A survey found one curry restaurant for every 853 residents in Bromley, south-east London. Other curry restaurant hot-spots included Epsom, Reading, Leicester, Cardiff and Doncaster, according to the study by a Cobra, a lager manufacturer. However, Birmingham, famous for its balti belt, failed to make the top 10 [BBC]

The study found the Taj Mahal to be the most popular name for an Indian restaurant followed by Taste of India, Maharaja, Akash, Spice Lounge and Monsoon. More unusual names included Posh Spice, Urban Turban, Ace of Spice and Some Like It Hot.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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