Here’s the takeaway: Britons now like spicier Indian food.
According to a recent survey by the British Curry Club‘s Chaat! magazine, jalfrezi curry — a blend of hot green chilies, peppers, tomatoes and onions — is the number one curry in Britain. It usurped the top spot from the longtime favorite, chicken tikka masala, a far milder dish, usually made with a creamy tomato sauce, which fell to number eight on the list.
There was little karma for korma, also less spicy. It came in at tenth place.
Britain has some 10,000 Indian restaurants, culinary vestiges of its imperial history. Chaat! estimates that, each day, six million people eat at the country’s curry houses, as they are often called, but many food writers decry the general quality of England’s version of the sub-continental cuisine.
The Telegraph described a typical meal in a traditional British Indian restaurant: “First, an oval dish of quivering shiny stuff that looks like a biohazard, then one of dayglo rice grains, and a big floppy thing resembling an oven glove.”
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Approving of the shift in taste, the paper writes: “In terms of national advancement, this could be a turning point, one that ranks with the wine drinkers of the 1970s prying themselves free from the death grip of Blue Nun, or the toppling of the Nescafé tyranny by the Milanese-style coffee shops that arrived in the Nineties.”
Many of the British papers noted the disputed origins of tikka masala. There are those who claim it was invented in Glasgow, by a chef who improvised the sauce when a customer said that his chicken was too dry. There was even a serious suggestion a few years back to get the European Union to officially designate chicken tikka masala as a Scottish dish – a proposal that was met with widespread derision from chefs who said it was clearly a product of northern India.
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The Observer, clearly accepting the argument for Scottish provenance and questioning the methodology of the survey itself, had words of equivocal support for chicken tikka masala: “People who love curry so much that they join clubs are unlikely to pick the bastardised dish, invented in Glasgow, which entailed adding Campbell’s correct tomato soup to placate the weedy UK palate.”
The “mighty TM” played an important role in British cuisine, argues the Observer, because most Britons couldn’t cope straight off with authentic Indian food. “Mock its sticky, sickly inauthenticity all you like but for many over the years it has acted as a gateway dish for the wide-ranging delights of Indian cuisine,” the paper wrote. “This is an achievement in itself.”
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As far as I’m concerned, it’s all good. I’ll freely admit I’ve always loved chicken tikka masala, wherever it comes from (and there are chefs who make spicier versions of it), but I also love jalfrezi, madras (#2 on the list), dhansak (#6), vindaloo (for some reason not on the list at all), and a whole host of others, spicy or not.
The only thing I’m a little upset about is that there were a few Indian food-related puns I missed the opportunity to exploit. Recognition in this area of achievement must go to The Sun. “Oh my gosht!” its headline exclaimed, the British public is “fahl-ing” for jalfrezi; as for the bland tikka masala, they’ll have “naan of it.”
Do you need your curry in a hurry? Want your info without condiments? Here’s the top ten curries list, from Chaat! magazine:
3. Rogan josh
8. Tikka masala
9. Aloo gobi
So, spicy or not? And do you have any Indian dish wordplay, or, in this case, shall we say, a pun-jab?