The story of curry – and how it became the UK’s national dish

April 14, 2016 8:11 am
The story of curry – and how it became the UK’s national dish

The Brits love a good curry, so much so that it is often touted as the national dish – and with 23 million people reportedly eating curry on a regular basis, it’s hard to disagree. So where did it come from and how did it become such a national favourite? Let’s take a closer look at this spicy classic.Where the word

Where the word curry comes from

The word originally came from the Tamil word “Kari” and was later anglicised into “curry”. In India, curry refers to a gravy or stew dish. Typically these dishes contain the Indian spice mix garam masala along with ginger, chilli, cumin, coriander, turmeric, and sometimes onion and garlic, but they can be made up of many things.The original curry

The original curry

Curry has been around a while, with even our prehistoric ancestors seemingly partial to a dish of highly spiced meat. Archaeological evidence dating to 2600 BCE from Mohenjo-daro, in Pakistan, suggests the pestle and mortar were used to pound spices including mustard, fennel and cumin to flavour food.

The spicy curries that we know and love today came much later. They have been attributed to the Mughal Empire and their influence on Indian cuisine, especially in the north, in the early 16th century. The original curry did not have any peppers in it, as chilli peppers were not native to India. It wasn’t until Christopher Columbus brought chilli seeds back from the New World and they were traded to India that they made their way into Indian cooking.

How curry came to Britain

The spread of curry to Britain is directly linked to the rise of the British Empire. Personnel stationed in India acquired a taste for spicy foods and brought these exotic dishes and recipes back home.

In 1747, Hannah Glasse produced the first known recipe for modern ‘currey’ in Glasse’s Art of Cookery, and by 1773, at least one London coffee house had curry on the menu with the first commercial curry powder appearing in 1780.

In 1846, William Makepeace Thackeray wrote a ‘Poem to Curry’ in his ‘Kitchen Melodies’ and in 1861, Mrs Beeton’s ‘Book of Household Management’ included no fewer than fourteen curry recipes, including Dr Kitchener’s Recipe for India Curry Powder.

British adaptations

What had been an Indian sauce to go with rice became an English stew with a little rice in it, and the development of curry recipes has continued to this day. One of the most popular curries in the UK is chicken tikka masala. The son of its inventor, the Pakistani chef Ali Ahmed Aslam of Shish Mahal in Glasgow, explained its conception in 1971:

On a typical dark, wet Glasgow night a bus driver coming off shift came in and ordered a chicken curry. He sent it back to the waiter saying “it’s dry.” At the time, Dad had an ulcer and was enjoying a plate of tomato soup. So he said why not put some tomato soup into the curry with some spices. They sent it back to the table, and the bus driver absolutely loved it. He and his friends came back again and again, and we put it on the menu.

From its Indian beginnings, curry has evolved and is now popular across the globe. With more than 9,000 Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi restaurants in the UK, our love affair with spicy sauces shows no sign of ending.

Looking for authentic Indian snacks to serve with your home-cooked curry? Check out Cafe Asia’s product range, available in Iceland stores across the UK.

Image via Pixabay. Creative Commons CC0.

About John Wilson

John loves food: eating it, cooking it, looking at it longingly and, above all (well, maybe not,) writing about it. As part of Cafe Asia’s content team, John has discovered the perfect outlet for his passion.

View All Posts