How Indian Food Took Over The UK
Image Credit: Indian Food | Image Credit:

If you’ve ever spent time in England, you will witness a nation obsessed with Indian food. From Chicken Tikka Masala to Kheema and Dhansak, there is a love for Indian food that has become almost cult-like.

Ask your English friends where to get good curry and they will likely give you the names of their favorite restaurants or a brief review of another place they once visited. And yet, this recent phenomenon raises an interesting question: how did this happen? How did Indian food go from being something virtually unheard of in that island to something so widely adopted and loved that even small towns have an Indian restaurant? The answer lies in the history of immigration from India and Pakistan after World War II.

The UK today has thousands of Indian restaurants throughout the country, and a lot of Indians living here prepare their own Indian curries and bread at home. They are easy to cook as they require few ingredients and almost anyone learn to cook these simple, delicious recipes. It’s the payoff in taste that has many people in Britain taking an interest in learning how to prepare authentic Indian dishes from scratch at home. 

Indian food is served everywhere in Britain. It's among the most popular cuisines in the UK, after Chinese and Italian. In 2016, 33% of Brits said they had eaten Indian takeaways in the last week, and 36% had eaten at Indian restaurants. One of the key reasons for this popularity is that Indian cuisine is easy to prepare at home. You can cook a whole meal in just a few minutes, but, importantly, it's also very portable. You can easily eat an Indian meal on the go. For example, you can grab an instant curry sauce from your local supermarket and eat it straight from the packet on the train or bus. Another factor behind its popularity is that it is very affordable. A typical curry dish costs around £3 to £4. That makes Indian food very accessible, and a regular choice of meal for anyone on a budget.

When the British arrived in India in the 1600s, they had to adapt to the spicy dishes rustled up by their Indian cooks. When they went back home in 1947, they may have missed the various tastes they had grown accustomed to. British food has traditionally been bland, and they came to India for the spices and trade. Before the Suez Canal started operations in 1869, British officers to India traveled almost 4,500 miles in a sea voyage that lasted months. It’s believed that was a main reason behind their women stayed back at home in England.

The men married Indian women or kept Indian cooks, who got them hooked to Indian food. Some books says they were not so happy going back to eating fish and chips. Indian spices were added to British food, British-origin wives started learning from their Indian cooks, and a new Anglo-Indian cuisine was born.

The word ‘Curry’ comes from the Tamil ‘Kari’, which is a thin gravy on rice. According to historians, curry was first made by the British officers and their Indian cooks in the 18th century. Soon the curry grew in popularity among the British like wildfire and Indian merchants began manufacturing powdered garam masala for the English officers to take back with them to Britain. The British too began selling these home-made masala powders to other colonies, which also contributed to the popularity of this new fusion of cooking styles.

Although England has its own unique cuisine, its historical ties with India and its love for Indian spices have helped hype up Indian food there. Today, the joke goes that the national dish of Britain is not Fish-and-Chips but Chicken Tikka Masala, which speaks volumes of the influence of Indian food there. 

In addition to curry dishes, there are other staples such as bread curries and rice dishes that are cooked in homes around the country. Other popular Indian dishes are Biryanis, Pulaos, Butter Chicken, Chicken Rogan Josh, Tandoori naans, etc. This diversity in culinary culture has led to a large variety of cuisines in Britain today, with more nuanced takes on this cuisine also taking center stage, for instance, the rise in popularity of Bangladeshi and Pakistani food. While most people associate Indian food with South Asia, the UK has its own unique version of this which reflects the embrace of its diverse history and culture.