Curry Houses Decline In The UK: A Look At A British Food Fixture
Image Credit: Many curry houses are adapting to changing tastes by offering new and innovative dishes.

CURRY first arrived in Britain in the 18th century, brought over by British colonisers who had spent time in India. At first, it was only enjoyed by the wealthy, who could afford the exotic spices and ingredients needed to make it. However, as the British Empire expanded, so did the availability of curry. By the 19th century, curry had become a popular dish among the middle classes, who enjoyed the exotic flavours and spices. It was also seen as a way to show off one's wealth and sophistication, as it was still considered a luxury dish.

The Rise of the Curry House

After World War II, there was a shortage of workers in Britain. The British government encouraged immigration from former colonies like India and Pakistan. Many of the immigrants were cooks, and they found jobs in the growing number of Indian restaurants catering to Britshers’ appetite for curry. These immigrants adapted traditional Indian curries to suit British tastes, making them milder and sweeter. Dishes like chicken tikka masala, with its creamy tomato sauce, became hugely popular.

The first curry house in Britain was the Hindoostane Coffee House, which was opened in London in 1810, by Sake Dean Mahomed, a former captain in the British East India Company's Bombay Army. However, it wasn't until the 1950s and ‘60s that curry houses really took off, with many opening up in cities across the country.

These restaurants were often family-run affairs, with recipes passed down through generations. They offered a taste of home for immigrants who had left their countries behind, as well as introducing British people to new and exciting flavours.

The Decline of the Curry House

However, in recent years, the curry house has been in decline. According to a recent article in The Guardian, the number of curry houses in Britain has fallen by a third in the past decade. This is due to a number of factors, including changing tastes, rising costs, and a shortage of skilled chefs.

One of the main reasons for the decline of the curry house is changing tastes. As British people have become more adventurous in their eating habits, they have started to explore other cuisines, such as Thai, Vietnamese, and Korean. This has led to a decline in demand for traditional curries.

Another factor is rising costs. Many curry houses have struggled to keep up with rising rents and food prices, which has put pressure on their profit margins. This has led to some restaurants cutting corners, such as using cheaper ingredients or pre-made sauces, which has led to a decline in quality.

Finally, there is a shortage of skilled chefs. Many curry houses rely on chefs from India and Bangladesh, who are often brought over on temporary visas. However, changes to immigration laws have made it harder for these chefs to come to Britain, which has led to a shortage of skilled workers.

The Future of Curry in Britain

Despite these challenges, there is still hope for the future of curry in Britain. Many curry houses are adapting to changing tastes by offering new and innovative dishes, such as fusion curries that combine Indian and British flavours.

There is also a growing interest in authentic, regional Indian cuisine, which could help to revive interest in traditional curries. Finally, there is a growing awareness of the importance of supporting local businesses and independent restaurants. This could help to boost the fortunes of curry houses, which are often family-run affairs that have been passed down through generations.

Curry has a long and fascinating history in Britain. The hope is that it  continues to thrive for generations to come.