What can Britain teach India about curry? Quite a lot, apparently

By Lewis Smith
Sunday 23 October 2011 00:47

In the great tradition of taking coals to Newcastle, a group of British chefs have travelled to India to cook curry for the locals.

Dishes such as chicken tikka masala and balti chicken have been served up as examples of Britain's own take on curry, and they've been going down a storm.

Four master chefs from Indian and Bangladeshi restaurants in Britain travelled to Kolkata – one of the places that claim to be where colonial travellers first fell in love with the spicy dish – to showcase the best of British curries.

An unexpected taste for curry was imported to Britain in the days of the Empire, and the love affair has developed to the point today when commentators describe it as a national dish.

There are now an estimated 12,000 curry restaurants in Britain and the curry industry is thought to be worth £4.2bn annually and employs 100,000 people.

But since leaving its native India, the curry has been Westernised – undergoing subtle but distinct changes to the point that what the British describe as Indian food is regarded as something of a novelty by the people of Kolkata.

Nevertheless, they have been enthusiastic about the food served up to them as part of the 10-day Taste of Britain Curry Festival. "It is running to packed houses," said Koushik Sengupta, the food and beverage manager at the Hotel Hindustan International, which is hosting the festival. "We are overwhelmed with the interest and response [to] an everyday British food."

Syed Belal Ahmed, the festival's director, said: "The great British curry is going back to its roots – Kolkata. Once the proud seat of the British Raj in India, Kolkata is the place where the curry trail really started.

"For many years, British food has been the butt of many jokes. But in recent years, there has been a renaissance in the British food industry."

Mr Ahmed added: "It was like a homecoming for the Great British Curry."

The festival was organised by Curry Life magazine and the editor-in-chief, Syed Nahas Pasha, said: "The Taste of Britain Curry Festival aims at fostering their [British chefs'] leadership role in the evolution of curry to meet the demands of the increasingly discerning taste of British food enthusiasts."

Hotel Hindustan staff have been so impressed with the response to almost 50 British curry dishes which have been served up at lunch and dinner for 1,299 rupees (£19) per person, that they will be adding some of them to their regular menus.

However, before they can be offered as an everyday meal in Kolkata, they will have to be adjusted to suit the local tastes. "British curry uses less spices, to suit the English taste. Hence a little alteration will be required," said Partha Mittra, one of the guest chefs.

The first curry house in Britain is reputed to be the Hindustani Coffee House, which was started by Sake Dean Mahomed in 1809 in central London.

After completing its appearance in India, the festival will travel to Madrid in June and to Dhaka in October.

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