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  • Writer's picturePaul Andrews

Adding Some Spice To The British Dinner Table

The British love affair with Indian food is a culinary romance that has endured for centuries. From the fragrant spices of a bustling curry house on Brick Lane to the cosy comfort of homemade chicken tikka masala, Indian cuisine has become an integral part of British culinary culture. This enduring fascination with the flavours of the Indian subcontinent has not only reshaped the British palate but also fostered a unique blend of tradition and innovation.

The history of British-Indian culinary connections dates back to the days of the British Empire when the British Raj brought Indian flavours to the heart of the United Kingdom. The early 19th century saw the first Indian restaurants spring up in London, introducing Britons to dishes like curry and chutney. As the Empire expanded, so did the British appetite for Indian cuisine, laying the foundation for the lasting connection.

One of the reasons behind the enduring love of Indian food in Britain is the sheer variety of dishes it offers. From creamy kormas to fiery vindaloos, tangy chutneys to crispy pakoras, Indian cuisine presents a smorgasbord of flavours and textures. This diversity means there is something to suit every taste, from the spice enthusiasts to those who prefer milder, creamy dishes.

The British love for Indian food is not confined to restaurants. It has seeped into everyday life, influencing the way Britons cook at home. Fusion dishes like the infamous "chicken tikka masala" were born in Britain, highlighting the unique way Indian and British culinary traditions have merged. Indian flavours can be found in pies, sandwiches, and even crisps, reflecting the adaptability and influence of Indian cuisine.

When it comes to Indian cuisine, certain dishes have risen to iconic status in Britain. These dishes have become household names and are often the first choices on restaurant menus and takeaway orders. The beloved Chicken Tikka Masala, a creamy tomato-based curry with succulent marinated chicken, is a quintessential British-Indian creation that exemplifies the fusion of flavours.

Likewise, the spicy and aromatic Chicken Korma, the fiery Chicken Vindaloo, and the delectable Lamb Rogan Josh are celebrated for their rich and diverse flavours.

Vegetarian options like Paneer Tikka and Vegetable Biryani have also found a devoted following among those seeking a meat-free Indian feast. To satisfy the craving for bread, Naan and Garlic Naan are the go-to choices, often used to scoop up every last bit of sauce from these beloved dishes. These classics have left an indelible mark on British palates and continue to be cherished staples of Indian cuisine in the UK.

Indian cuisine is renowned for its bold and complex flavours, and at the heart of this culinary artistry are an array of aromatic spices. Some of the most commonly used spices in Indian cooking include:

  • Cumin: Cumin seeds and ground cumin add a warm, earthy flavour to many Indian dishes. They are often used in tempering oil at the start of cooking to release their nutty aroma.

  • Coriander: Ground coriander and fresh coriander leaves are ubiquitous in Indian recipes. They provide a citrusy, slightly sweet, and herbal undertone to curries and chutneys.

  • Turmeric: Known for its vivid yellow colour, turmeric is a key ingredient in curry powders and adds an earthy, slightly bitter flavour. It's also celebrated for its health benefits.

  • Cardamom: Both green and black cardamom pods are used in Indian cuisine. They impart a fragrant, sweet, and slightly spicy flavour, often found in biryanis and desserts.

  • Cinnamon: Cinnamon sticks and ground cinnamon add warmth and a sweet-spicy note to many Indian dishes, particularly in rice dishes and sweets.

  • Cloves: Cloves are known for their intense, pungent flavour and are often used to infuse rich gravies and marinades.

  • Chili Peppers: The heat in Indian cuisine is largely attributed to a variety of chili peppers, such as dried red chilies, green chilies, and chili powder, which range from mildly warm to fiery hot.

  • Mustard Seeds: Used for tempering in many South Indian dishes, mustard seeds provide a nutty and slightly bitter flavour that's essential in curries and pickles.

  • Fenugreek: Fenugreek leaves and seeds add a distinctive bitter-sweet taste to dishes, and fenugreek seeds are commonly found in spice blends and pickles.

The art of Indian cooking lies in the skilful blending and tempering of these spices to create a harmonious symphony of flavours, ensuring that every bite is a sensory delight.

Indian restaurants and takeaways have become cornerstones of local communities in the UK. These establishments often serve as cultural hubs, bringing together people from diverse backgrounds and providing a sense of belonging. British-Indian chefs and restaurant owners have played a crucial role in preserving and spreading authentic Indian culinary traditions.

Cities like London, Birmingham, and Manchester boast bustling 'curry miles' where rows of Indian and South Asian restaurants line the streets. These hubs not only offer incredible food but also an immersive cultural experience. The lively atmosphere and rich aromas that fill these neighbourhoods are a testament to the fusion of two worlds.

Several renowned Indian chefs have made a significant impact on the culinary scene in the UK, including:

  • Atul Kochhar: A prominent figure in the world of Indian cuisine, Atul Kochhar became the first Indian chef to receive a Michelin star. He's known for his innovative take on traditional Indian flavours and has several acclaimed restaurants in the UK.

  • Vineet Bhatia: Another Michelin-starred chef, Vineet Bhatia is celebrated for his modern interpretation of Indian cuisine. His restaurant, Rasoi, in London, has earned critical acclaim.

  • Cyrus Todiwala: Known for his distinctive fusion of Indian and British ingredients and techniques, Cyrus Todiwala is a popular chef with a strong presence in the UK. His Cafe Spice Namaste restaurant in London is well-regarded.

  • Alfred Prasad: Formerly of the Michelin-starred Tamarind in London, Alfred Prasad is a highly respected chef in the Indian culinary world. He's known for his expertise in traditional Indian cooking techniques.

  • Asma Khan: Asma Khan gained fame for her appearance on the Netflix series "Chef's Table." She runs the acclaimed Darjeeling Express restaurant in London, offering a taste of authentic Indian home cooking.

  • Aktar Islam: Aktar Islam, a talented chef and restaurateur, has brought his innovative approach to Indian cuisine to Birmingham. His restaurant, Opheem, has garnered praise for its modern take on Indian flavors.

These chefs have not only elevated the perception of Indian cuisine in the UK but have also contributed to the fusion of traditional and contemporary flavours, making them significant figures in the culinary world.

While honouring traditional recipes and techniques, Indian cuisine in Britain has also evolved with the times. Chefs and home cooks alike experiment with ingredients and presentations, contributing to the growth and diversification of Indian food in the UK. The result is a vibrant, ever-evolving culinary landscape.

The British love affair with Indian food is a testament to the power of culinary cross-pollination and the enduring appeal of flavours that have transcended borders. It's a celebration of diversity, community, and adaptation, encapsulated in each mouth-watering bite of a classic curry or innovative fusion dish and as a cuisine shows no sign of losing its broad appeal any time soon.


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