How Did Chicken Tikka Masala Become The UK’s National Dish?
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For a dish that is considered quintessentially Indian, it is surely odd that its roots are not as Indian as some may assume. Developed in the United Kingdom, possibly by immigrant Bangladeshi or Pakistani chefs, chicken tikka masala truly demonstrates how foods transcend borders and are ultimately an amalgamation of shared experiences, cultures, and histories.

As the name suggests, chicken tikka masala is a curry-based dish in which chicken marinaded in a spice-laden yogurt base is pan fried and dunked in a tomato-based mildly spicy and creamy curry. Theories of its origins are aplenty. One theory is that a customer of Glasgow’s famous curry house, Shish Mahal, was unhappy with the dry chicken, and in a moment of immediate innovation, chef Ali Ahmed Aslam took the dish back and curried it up by spicing up tomato soup he had on hand as he was taking care of a stomach ulcer. The customer was so thrilled with this new dish that he came back another day with friends requesting the same dish, which paved the way for its global recognition. Other theories firmly pin the origins of the dish on the state of Punjab, which was periodically improved upon until it reached its current state. Another story is that immigrant Bangladeshi or Pakistani chefs developed the dish, possibly by building on the Shahi Chicken Masala recipe found in Mrs. Balbir Singh’s 1961 cookbook Indian Cookery. Hence, Punjabi-born Mrs. Singh is sometimes credited with the OG recipe that led to today’s chicken tikka masala.

But how did this dish become popular in the UK? The groundwork for this had begun more than a century before chicken tikka masala even came to be. As early as the mid-1800s, "curry" was very popular in the Victorian era. A cookbook from 1852 declared that dinners may not be complete unless a curry is served on the table. At this time, curry became popular among members of the East India Company who returned to Britain and loosely translated to English cooks what they consumed in India. This led to a lighter, less spicy, less oily, and more generic-sounding curry dish. Over the decades, the popularity faded, and in the 1930s, there were only a handful of restaurants that served "Indian" food.

However, the "curry houses" were repopularized by Bangladeshi immigrants, many of whom were from Sylhet and had previously worked on steamships. They found it challenging to find jobs in Britain and worked in kitchens, while some opened their own. These "curry houses" often cooked the same types of food that other Indian restaurants were serving. And possibly, it is in one of these that the modern-day version of chicken tikka masala found its origin.

So popular was this dish that in 2001, the UK’s foreign secretary, Robin Cook, said, "Chicken Tikka Massala is now a true British national dish, not only because it is the most popular, but because it is a perfect illustration of the way Britain absorbs and adapts external influences." Chicken Tikka is an Indian dish. "The masala sauce was added to satisfy the desire of British people to have their meat served in gravy." The dish is extremely popular in the UK and is ordered in high volumes by the British, alongside other popular British foods like fish and chips and Yorkshire puddings.

Even though the true origins of this dish may never be known, we are just glad this scrumptious dish exists. We tip our hats to everyone who may have been involved in its evolution and popularization. Here is one of our favorite recipes that you can try at home:

For the chicken marinade:

    28 oz (800 g) of boneless, skinless chicken thighs cut into bite-sized pieces

    1 cup plain yogurt

    1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic

    1 tablespoon ginger, diced and crushed

    2 tablespoons garam masala

    1 teaspoon turmeric powder

    1 teaspoon ground cumin or cumin powder

    1 teaspoon Kashmiri chili (or 1/2 teaspoon ground red chili powder)

    1 teaspoon of salt

For the sauce:

    2 tablespoons of vegetable or canola oil

    2 tablespoons of butter

    2 small onions (or 1 large onion) finely diced

    1 1/2 tablespoons finely grated garlic

    1 tablespoon ginger, finely grated

    1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

    1 teaspoon turmeric powder

    1 teaspoon Kashmiri chili

    1 teaspoon ground coriander

    1 1/2 teaspoons garam masala

    14 oz (400 g) of tomato puree

    1 teaspoon ground red chili powder (according to heat preferences)

    1 teaspoon salt

    1 1/4 cups of heavy or thickened cream

    1 teaspoon brown sugar

    If necessary, add 1/4 cup water.

    4 tablespoons fresh cilantro or coriander to garnish


1.    Combine the chicken with all of the ingredients for the chicken marinade and marinate for an hour. Overnight marinating is even better.

2.    Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. When the oil starts sizzling, add the chicken pieces in batches of two or three. Fry until browned for only 3 minutes on each side. Set it aside and keep it warm.

3.    Melt the butter in the same pan. Fry the onions until soft. Scrape the onions from the bottom.

4.    Add garlic and ginger and sauté for 1 minute until fragrant, then add garam masala, cumin, turmeric, and coriander. Fry for about 20 seconds or until fragrant, while stirring occasionally.

5.    Pour in the tomato puree, chili powder, and salt. Allow the sauce to simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it thickens and turns a deep brown color.

6.    Stir the cream and sugar through the sauce. Add the chicken and its juices back into the pan and cook for an additional 8–10 minutes until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce is thick and bubbling. Pour in the water to thin out the sauce, if needed.

7.    Garnish with coriander and serve with hot rice or naan.