Indian kitchen tales: The English take-away

Over the centuries Indian food has gone through many tweaks, adaptations, upheavals and subtle inclusions to become what it is today — diverse, colourful, unique and quite frankly an interesti

Published: 09th March 2012 12:18 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th May 2012 06:32 PM   |  A+A-


Standing rib roast of beef.

Over the centuries Indian food has gone through many tweaks, adaptations, upheavals and subtle inclusions to become what it is today — diverse, colourful, unique and quite frankly an interesting study of our eventful history.

After the Portuguese who gave us a rich Goan and Konkani cuisine and a host of vegetables that are an integral part of our diet, it was time for the English to make a mark on our cuisine. The East India Company arrived on our shores (Surat to be exact)  in 1608 and it took them 10 years of diplomacy to be able to set up a trading post in Gujarat. Bit by bit their influence grew in all spheres of life, as did their familiarity with regional food of India. This is not to say they took to the local cuisine immediately; ample efforts were made to stick to English fare. However, lack of supply of necessary ingredients, the climate as well as the native culture promoted an assimilation of tastes. What emerged was a curious marriage of the sedate and mostly bland English food and the spicy and earthy Indian cuisine — a collaboration that has evolved and exists to this day. One of these is the Anglo Indian cuisine. Traditional English food for example: Roast beef, which relies on the flavour of the meat, was modified by the addition of Indian-style spices like cloves and red chillies. Fish and meat began being cooked in curry form with Indian vegetables. Anglo-Indian food made use of coconut, yogurt, and almonds.

Some well-known Anglo-Indian dishes include kedgeree, mulligatawny, pies and pastries with Indian spiced meat dish fillings. Kedegree is a modified khichri, consisting of boiled rice, cooked and flaked fish, parsley, hard-boiled eggs, masalas, butter or cream. The dish was even taken back across the ocean to the Isles by the British who had enjoyed it in India as a breakfast dish in Victorian times. Mulligatawny was another innovation. It is the anglicised version of the Tamil word milaggu tanni meaning ‘pepper water’ and is a lot like rasam. Consumed as soup, the dish can be varied by addition of vegetables or meats.

The English had a significant impact on how we ate. We began to use plates instead of banana leaves or other organic substitutes, knives and forks came into use for the first time and the dining table replaced the kitchen floor. Our tradition of tea-time is also a British legacy. A traditional English tea comprises hot tea (surprise, surprise) snacks like scones with clotted cream and jam, finger sandwiches and tea cakes, as well as assorted pastries, and sweet and savoury pies. Traditional Indian tea time can differ from area to area, but the concept of ‘tea-time’ in most places in India was made popular by

the British.

The give and take of influences was two way. When the British returned home they took back many innovations and influences which can still be seen in the food of UK. The influence was further strengthened and spread by the many migrants who went to make a life in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland.

In recent times, it is believed that there exist 8,000 Indian restaurants and curry houses in the UK and chicken tikka masala has long replaced the famous fish and chips as the national dish of England. Chicken tikka masala was a combination prepared in the UK and its origins are a bit hazy. Some claim a Pakistani chef in Glasgow invented it by improvising a sauce made from yogurt, cream and spices to create a mellow dish that could be enjoyed by the British. Others claim that it originated in Birmingham and Newcastle. Or given its similarity with butter chicken, it may well have been inspired by the popular north Indian dish. Whatever its origin, the fact that ‘curry’ is the most popular dish in the isles today, shows the influence that Indian food has had on the British palate.

This brings us to the end of this series, in which I attempted to show you how history has shaped Indian cuisine and hopefully set you on a path to find out more. I hope you agree that food is an important and intriguing source of world history. Now if only my history teacher had had this epiphany — I would have aced that subject in school!

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