The Raj lives on in our restaurants

The finest Indian food is still not given such adoration as even bad French or Italian food
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The Independent Culture
IN MY particular Muslim community during feasts and wedding parties, we always serve rich sweetmeats, such as ladoo (sugary, orange balls made of chickpea flour) and barfi (buttery nut fudge), before the main course. My mother explains that it is important to sweeten people up before hitting them with the hot and heavy: "They receive it better, because the sweet is on the tongue."

So let me do the same. I enjoy the way white Britons love Indian food. I was inordinately delighted to watch a young Englishwoman on television explaining that she had to leave her Sicilian husband and go back home because she missed the curries too much. I enjoy the power I can exert over my English husband, who will do anything I ask if and when I cook Indian. I constantly bore anyone who cannot avoid me with a stream of fantastic facts, such as: Indian food has a turnover that is higher than coal, steel and shipbuilding combined, and chicken tikka is one of Marks & Spencer's biggest exports.

Our cooking has friends in both high and low places now. The fusty Daily Telegraph describes curry as the national food of Britain, and British football fans sing vindaloo cheer-on songs. We came, we saw, we cooked - and you surrendered. Or so it would appear.

But (and here comes the hot food) all is not what it seems. What we have here is the Raj again, carrying with it lust without love, creating a potent mixture of contempt and appropriation, of race and class. And it needs to be deconstructed if it is to be properly understood.

On the whole, the most finely crafted Indian food is still not given the adoration automatically awarded to even bad, malevolent French and Italian food.

One reason is that, like Chinese, Thai, and other "Third World" cooking, Indian food is not European. Secondly it is commonplace, too much a food of the people to be taken seriously by elitists who think they have eaten well only if their pockets have been emptied. They have been encouraged to believe this by our precious food critics who stride the metropolis with self-importance.

Now, the last time I wrote about this subject, foodies such as Fay Maschler and Drew Smith whipped themselves into such outrage that I thought I would get my deportation orders and be put on a boat to Bombay. These people have tender, sensitive skin. They can dole out merciless judgements but must not be touched themselves.

But I ask again. Why have food critics perpetuated such an iniquitous hierarchy of foods, which almost always places Indian food on the lower rungs however good it is?

And if you think I'm whinging, read what that usually snobbish food critic AA Gill writes of Vineet Bhatia, an Indian restaurant in Hammersmith: "It's shaming to point out, but if Bhatia cooked in the French or Italian vernacular, or came from New York, he would be hailed as a superchef. His recipes would be published in glossy magazines, his beautiful home explored in Hello! magazine." Just so, just so.

And that is not all. Our humiliation carries on. Those who break through this wall of prejudice and seek to claim credence and status are also almost all white. Pat Chapman, a cheerful, helpful chap who runs the Curry Club of Britain, is now the proclaimed "king" of curries. None of our top-selling recipe books are by British Asians. Publishers would not dream of investing in writers such as the inimitable food writer Mridula Baljekar in the way they do for Delia Smith.

The only exception is Madhur Jaffrey, who is an Indian living in the United States. None of the newspaper chefs are Asian. And, worst of all, according to the Glasgow Media Group, the highly popular and proliferating television cookery programmes totally exclude Asian chefs. They don't feature any of the other non-white groups, either, give or take an Ainsley Harriet.

Week in and week out you get Nigel and Nigella, Antonio and Antony, Rick and Robert et al indulging in loving cook-ins, neglecting to ask in (even as guest chefs) any Asian chef, and appropriating our recipes and presenting them to the world as if they had sprouted in their own enthusiastic little hearts.

I wouldn't mind if our top chefs from restaurants such as Cafe Lazeez, The Star of India, Soho Spice and Southall's Gifto Lahori were given the chance to cook and blab about how to boil the perfect egg and make a hearty custard.

But that, as the Glasgow study says is "unimaginable". If this isn't the new colonialism, then I don't know what is.

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