Ali Ahmed Aslam, ‘Inventor Of Chicken Tikka Masala’, Is No More

It’s a sad day for the lovers of the famous Chicken Tikka Masala. One of the UK’s national dishes, it has captured the attention of Hollywood stars like Tom Cruise over the years, and is considered a close cousin of our desi Butter Chicken, but prepared keeping the local palate in mind. Essentially a chicken curry, the dish is a rage across the UK. But the man who is credited to have invented the legendary dish is no longer with us.

Ali Ahmed Aslam - a Scottish chef, who moved to Glasgow from Pakistan in the 1950s - died on December 19 December, at the age of 77. He opened the Shish Mahal restaurant at Glasgow’s west end in 1964, with the best of Pakistani and Indian dishes on offer. The restaurant became a hit among immigrants and the local population alike. With the invention of this dish, Ali is said to have remarkably changed the foodscape of the UK forever. In fact, the story behind the invention of Chicken Tikka Masala is quite interesting.

Chicken Tikka Masala: The Origin Story

For the uninitiated, Chicken Tikka is a popular desi appetiser, in which chicken pieces, mostly chicken breasts, are marinated in a mixture of yogurt and spices. They are then skewered in sleek iron rods and cooked in tandoor (a clay oven). These tikkas can be enjoyed as is with a sprinkle of chaat masala and lemon juice, or with chutney. In the 1970s, however, when a customer asked if there was a way to make his Chicken Tikka less dry, Ali decided to add a creamy tomato sauce to the tikkas, and the rest as they say is history.

In an interview earlier, he admitted that since people of Britain would not like their curry as “hot” as the Pakistanis and Indians, the tomato sauce was the best bet. It moistens the chicken, adds a lovely tang, and imparts a beautiful red colour to the curry. As a mark of respect, his restaurant - Shish Mahal - remained closed for 48 hours after the announcement of his death.