The Chicken Tikka Masala Curry was proclaimed to be the UK’s national dish by government minister Robin Cook in 2001. Invented in Glasgow, sometime in the past, the dish was so popular that 9,000 curry houses sprung up all over the country. People couldn’t get enough of this ‘exotic’ dish that was actually created in the UK. Now, though the UK’s curry industry is in trouble with people falling out of love with the humble fragrant, orange dish. Why has this happened and can it be saved?
There was a time when Fish and Chips was the UK’s national dish. Fish and chips, yes, deep-fried soggy fish and oily chips with mushy peas on the side. Mushy peas look like something a baby threw up and probably tastes the same. There are worrying reports that fish and chips are becoming more and more popular again and it seems to happening at the expense of the Tikka Masala Curry.
One of the reasons could be Brexit. Damn Brexit! The UK seems to be falling out of love with anything foreign and falling back in love with British and only British. The falling value of the UK pound has made rents, rates and raw material more expensive. Also, because of stricter and stricter immigration rules, it is getting harder to hire people who serve you at curry houses and also harder to hire talented chefs to come over, forget how to cook actual Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi food and learn to cook a slightly sweet orange British dish full of little bits of chicken. And pair it with naan bread, as it called here. Naan means a type of bread so essentially we are all ordering ‘bread bread’. Don’t even get me started on chai tea. Tea tea, really?
Another reason could also be that all curry houses are basically the same, same dishes, same layouts, same Cobra beer on drought. You could be in a curry house called Aghas in Glasgow or one called Eastern Spice in London and you could be in either of them without knowing the difference. How do we get away from cookie cutter curry houses, stop the onslaught of soggy, oily fish and bring back a curry renaissance?
One way to get people to fall back in love with the curry is to make it less generic and literally ‘spice it up’. There are some really interesting authentic Indian restaurants popping up all over the country. One of them is The Chilli Pickle in Brighton, which is one of the best eateries in the city. It does some of the best authentic food I have eaten anywhere in the UK. It has moved its menu away from samey curries to offering innovative dishes like Parsnip and Curry Leaf Pakoras, Parsi Chicken Curry and Soybean and Cleriac Kolumbu (I have no idea what this is but it sounds great).
Another way to fix the problem could be to try something totally different in the curry industry. Something like an Indian ingredients box service where people are sent ingredients and sauce mixes in the post that they can turn into incredible authentic dishes at home. Or a home delivery service of great Indian food accessed through an app like Deliveroo, Curryroo if you will. Or even maybe Indian food needs a revolution like the craft beer revolution that is taking hold in the US and the UK at the moment. Small scale Indian food manufacturers creating dishes or whole menus for specific niches in the industry.
Whatever happens, it is going to be an interesting time for the simple curry. Let’s hope that we can see it revived to the place of pride it held in people’s hearts and not replaced by something bland and boring.
Contributed by: Az Ahmed
22 Aug 2017
16 May 2017