Forget chicken tikka masala. Chinese food is the most popular ethnic cuisine, according to new research that suggests Britain's immense enthusiasm for foreign cooking is marching eastwards across Asia.
In a poll, 83 per cent of adults liked eating tangy Chinese, ahead of the 71 per cent who favoured highly-spiced Indian food. When eating out, Britons also prefer Peking duck to a lamb balti – almost a third of people have visited a Chinese restaurant in the past 12 months compared with 30 per cent who have been to a curry house.
Mintel's Ethnic Cuisine report found consumers spent £1.32bn on foreign cooking last year. Researchers forecast that amount will hit £1.52bn by 2013 because of rising affluence, more women in work and a greater number of twenty-something shoppers and single households.
In the supermarket, the curry still reigned supreme, with shoppers spending £556m on Indian £367m on Chinese food. However sales for Indian and Chinese only went up 1 per cent and their traditional stranglehold hold on taste buds is easing, falling from 77 per cent of sales in 2003 to 70 per cent last year as consumers experiment with newer styles of cooking.
Shops sold 20 per cent more Mexican food, the third most popular cuisine, butAsian foods recorded the most spectacular growth.
Meals and ingredients for South-east Asian cooking, including Vietnamese, Indonesian, Malaysian and Singaporean, grew by 46 per cent to £17m. Japanese food grew 44 per cent to £13m. Cajun and Caribbean food rose 7 per cent.
Mintel detected a rise in home cooking, influenced by the need to save money and eat healthily – 62 per cent of adults said cooking ethnic food at home was cheaper than getting a takeaway while 61 per cent – up 6 per cent – said they enjoyed cooking and trying new recipes.
More than a third reckoned their curries tasted just as good as a takeaway.
During 2007 and 2008, sales of Chinese stir fry sales rose 37 per cent and Chinese cooking sauces 13 per cent while ready meals fell 7 per cent. For Indian food, spices and other accompaniments were up 11 per cent and ready meals down 2 per cent.
"The economic climate seems to be impacting on Brits seeking to recreate the restaurant experience at home," said Emmanuelle Bouvier, a senior market analyst at Mintel. "The initial establishment of popular favourites Chinese and Indian cuisine have led to a broadening of the market and increased popularity of different types of ethnic food.
"Stir fries tend to be seen as healthy meal solutions that are also convenient while cooking aids, such as pastes and spices, give consumers the freedom to tailor their meals to their taste, which they cannot do with ready meals."
Enjoyment of ethnic food is greatest with those aged 25-44, 70 per cent of whom enjoy it. There are those, however, whose taste buds are a little less experimental – 6 per cent of the population claimed never to eat foreign food.