How did Indian restaurant food become mainstream in the uk?
Indian cuisine has become an inseparable part of the UK’s culinary landscape, with ‘’Indian’’ restaurants and curry houses serving as popular destinations for food lovers across the country. In this blog, we will explore the fascinating journey of Indian restaurant food, tracing its origins and the factors that contributed to its widespread popularity in the UK.
Indian restaurant food found its way into the UK during the colonial era when British traders and officials were introduced to the vibrant flavours and spices of India. The traders fell in love with these new taste profiles, and brought back bags of mixed Indian spices when they returned home to the UK.
Post-World War Curry Houses:
After World War II, an influx of people from India, Bangladesh and Pakistan immigrated to the UK and brought their authentic recipes with them. The first Indian restaurants, known as “curry houses,” began to emerge in cities like London, Birmingham, and Manchester. Initially these small restaurants were mainly visited by the South Asian Community living in the UK, as a taste of home away from home.
The Bangladeshi Chef Boom?
In 1970’s, the Civil War in Bangladesh led to another wave of immigration in the UK, and many of these people went to work in catering. Bangladesh was not a well-known country at this time, but everyone in the UK had heard of India. As a result, Bangladeshi chefs and restaurant owners labelled their restaurants as ‘Indian’ to help them entice customers in. It’s now estimated that around 80% of ‘Indian’ restaurants are actually Bangladeshi.
By the 1970’s, ‘’Indian’’ restaurants really began to explode in popularity. They would stay open later than most restaurants and takeaways, so became a common go-to after a night at the pub. It was accessible, and affordable, so proved a hit with the nation, especially among the working-classes.
The fusion of South Asian and British cuisine
The chefs grew to understand the tastes that were most popular among the Brits, and adapted their dishes to match. Milder spice levels, increased use of cream, and the creation of sauces with milder flavours were introduced. Chicken tikka masala is a prime example of this; a customer complained about chicken tikka being too dry, so Chef Ali Ahmed Aslam added a can of tomato soup to it.
Along with making curries more suited to english palettes, ‘’Indian’’ restaurants also began adding more english dishes as options, such as chips and omelette, so anyone could find something they like on the menu. This birthed the classic British- South Asian hybrid menus we all know and love.
A Favourite among the Brits
Over time, ‘’Indian’’ restaurant menus branched out to satisfy different tastes and diets. Vegetarian and vegan options became prominent as Indian restaurants responded to the increasing demand for plant-based meals. Going for a curry with friends and having a beer is as intertwined in British culture as going for Sunday Roast. This is most likely why Indian remains one of the most popular takeaway options, even being preferred over our beloved fish and chips.
If you type ‘Britains national dish’ into Google, Chicken Tikka Masala will be one of the first things you see, and it’s no surprise why. The popularity of Indian restaurant food in the UK is a testament to the Chef’s abilities to adapt, innovate, and cater to evolving tastes. Indian restaurant food has become a big part of Britains culture, and showcases the power of food to bring people together through the joy of sharing flavours and culinary experiences.
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