With tasty spices and mouth-watering aromas, it’s easy to see why Indian food is such a hit. Many people love going out for a curry or ordering Indian food – but when did this cuisine become so popular in the UK? And why is getting a taste of India, in London, such big business? Let’s delve deeper into the history.
Indian Recipes Brought Back From Overseas
When the British people who had lived in India during the 18th and 19th centuries returned home, they missed the food. And many brought their Indian cooks with them to Britain. New recipes, spices and food combinations were therefore introduced to the UK. Many boatmen from Bangladesh serving on British ships also remained in Britain after the Second World War. These boatmen made a living by renovating cafes and selling curry dishes with rice. Others took over fish and chip shops, serving curry sauce with chips. This is how the British Indian restaurant scene sprang up in the UK, with many dishes being modified to suit a more Western palate.
Curry Becomes a UK Favourite
Through clever recipe adaptations and new creations, Indian food became a UK favourite. Increased travel abroad in the 1960s and 70s also meant that people were open to trying new cuisines and weren’t so stuck on eating traditional British dishes that often included meat and vegetables. While Chicken Tikka Masala is not a traditional Indian dish, it became a firm favourite in the 1970s and by 2021 was the nation’s favourite dish. The origins of the dish are not certain, but many sources attribute it to the South Asian community in Britain, developing and adapting recipes to become more saucy, creamy and mild. It likely derives from Butter Chicken, which is a popular dish in the northern Indian subcontinent.
The Popularity of Curry Continues to Grow
These days, Indian restaurants are everywhere. If you’re heading to London, the best curry, options include Little India which offers a unique menu packed with delicious dishes. The popularity of curry is well known, but much-loved dishes such as the Balti were not available until the 1980s. This was invented by Pakistani restaurateurs and has now been adapted to save time, with pre-cooked meats being added to pre-prepared sauces and other spices added later to create a range of Balti dishes. The variety boosted interest in Indian food even more. You only have to look at the Little India menu to see just how many options there are.
A BBC cooking series called ‘Indian Cooking’ hosted by Madhur Jaffrey was also broadcast in the early 1980s and helped the British to learn more about cooking Indian food at home. This resulted in a demand for Indian ingredients. Ready meals in superstores soon followed.