The History of Indian Restaurants in Dublin Since 1908
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Indian cuisine has been part of Dublin’s culinary culture since the early 1900s. The first Indian restaurant in Dublin opened its doors in 1908. Over the years, the city has seen a steady rise in the number of Indian restaurants. Today, these restaurants are some of the most popular eateries in the city.

Before 1908, it was only Irish soldiers serving under the Raj who enjoyed "curries" because of their time spent in India. Even so, Cork and Waterford were spice ports beginning in the late Middle Ages. Between 1302 and 1468, spices like almonds, cloves, dates, galangal, pepper, and saffron were available in Ireland.

The Indian Restaurant and Tea Rooms, 1908: The First Indian Restaurant in Dublin

The first Indian restaurant in Dublin, known as "The Indian Restaurant and Tea Rooms," opened its doors in 1908. It was located on Sackville Street, and it was run by a man named Karim Khan.

Karim Khan was a pioneering Indian chef who had previously worked as a steward on British ships. He had traveled to Ireland, where he settled and opened The Indian Restaurant and Tea Rooms. The restaurant was a huge success and offered "real Indian curries" served by "native waiters in costume." It quickly became a popular destination for both locals and travelers and was known for its delicious curries, chutneys, and pickles.

The India Restaurant, 1939

It took the people of Dublin and the Indian community 31 years to find a restaurant serving authentic Indian cuisine. After Karim Khan's closed in 1908, it appears that no other Indian restaurants opened in Dublin until The India Restaurant on Lower Baggot Street opened in 1939 by an Irish-Bengali man named Sake Dean Mahomet, who had married an Irish woman named Jane Daly. It reopened as Mahomet's in 1943 but closed the following year.

However, in the meantime, in 1942, Indian Rask Dhas opened the Bombay Restaurant in Bray.

The 1950s and Indian Independence

After India achieved independence in 1947, many people moved there from the United Kingdom. Indian students in Dublin complained that Irish food was unappealing and that it was difficult to cook their traditional dishes. They ground and mixed their own garam masala; meat was expensive, but rice cost only pennies. Since butter was quite cheap, making ghee, or clarified butter, was simple.

Also, the rise in curry's popularity coincided with the end of food rationing. It wasn't until 1952 that an Indian ambassador hosted a reception at the Shelbourne Hotel for Dublin's Indian community, but even then, all the food was shipped in from India.

In 1955, Dubliners had only Italian food and Jammet's, a French restaurant with a French-style menu, to choose from.

Golden Orient, 1956: Golden Times for Indian Food

Mohammed "Mike" Butt, an Indian of Kenyan and Kashmiri ancestry, and his Dublin-born wife Terry opened the "Golden Orient" at 27 Lower Leeson Street in 1956. Dublin's Indian community and returning Irish travelers with an appetite for international cuisine were among the establishment's regulars. Following the success of his swanky eatery, Mohammed "Mike" Butt went on to co-found the Restaurants Association of Ireland.

After the restaurant extended its hours to 3 a.m., it became a nightclub, frequented by students from the nearby Earlsfort Terrace campus of University College Dublin. Mike and Terry, being pioneering restaurateurs, had to bring in everything from spices to rice poppadoms to tomato purée from London and keep it all in their garage.

After a successful summer season when more people visited, Mike saw a decline in business during the winter. After four generations of journalists, students, locals, and Indians were fed there, the popular restaurant finally closed in 1984.

A Background on the Enterprising Couple Mahmood (Mike) Butt and Terry

Mike and Terry were reluctant to leave Ireland, so the couple decided to open one of the country's first Indian restaurants, capitalizing on her background in catering and his expertise in Indian cuisine. When they found a suitable location in a residential area at 27 Lower Leeson Street, they signed a long-term lease and opened the Golden Orient Restaurant in February of 1956. There were six tables in the restaurant, and a curtain divided the cooking area from the dining area. Fortunately, on opening night, Terry O'Sullivan of the Irish Press came in and wrote a great review of the restaurant, which helped secure a loyal following from the get-go.

Taj Mahal - 1966 

Taj Mahal, a South Asian restaurant, first opened in 1966 at the intersection of Lincoln Place and Clare Street by Mohinder Singh Gill, also known as "Mark" Gill. After spending a few years in the United Kingdom, Gill, a native of the Jalandhar district of the Punjab, relocated to Ireland. The Taj Mahal was one of the longest-running Indian restaurants in Dublin, staying open until the mid-1990s.

Ten families from the Jalandhar region of India—some Hindu, some Sikh—moved to Ireland in 1972 to work as chefs at Gill's Taj Mahal and another of his restaurants in Cork.

In the late 1980s, the restaurant rose to fame thanks to Larry Gogan's "Just a Minute" quiz on RTE Radio 2. A famous answer to the question "Where is the Taj Mahal?" was "opposite the Dental Hospital."

The Slow Growth of Indian Food in the 1960s and 1970s

In July 1968, Nusight magazine published a review of mid-range restaurants in Dublin, and yet despite praising the aromatic curries, the article noted the scarcity of ethnic restaurants, with one being described as having "grubby tablecloths" and "filth." Clearly, the once-popular Indian restaurants in Dublin were losing their cult status.

The restaurant industry appeared to be booming, but the 1973 oil crisis and the subsequent recession caused a decline in people's disposable income. As a result, there was a drop in the number of people dining out, and restaurateurs struggled throughout the late 1970s.

To counter this, Butt's new venture for the 1970s included the Tandoori Rooms in Leeson Street, with dining and disco dancing until the early hours. Celebrities like Oliver Reid, Peter Sellers, Gay Byrne, Charlie Haughey, and Terry Keane frequented the Tandoori Rooms, which received high marks from Egon Ronay, Michelin, and the New York Times.

Madhur Jaffrey and A Passage to India

In 1982, Madhur Jaffrey's TV series on Indian cooking was aired, and Sharwoods Spices was launched in Ireland, which coincided with the release of the movie "A Passage to India," creating a nostalgia for India. These two events kicked off an interest in Indian food.

By the late 1980s, Irish tastes in food had become more adventurous. This shift can be attributed to a number of factors, including the growth in international travel and migration, the popularity of vegetarianism, rising incomes, urbanization, and the accessibility of inexpensive ethnic restaurants.

By 1989, there were over 150 ethnic restaurants in Ireland, with about half of them located in Dublin city and county, and many of them opening in the suburbs of Dublin.  

Oberois, Jaipur, and Rasam, 1990s

The Oberoi hotel chain, known as "India's Ritz Carlton," made its way to Ireland in the 1990s. In 1995, the opening of Saagar introduced Ireland to Indian haute cuisine. Asheesh Dewan, owner of Jaipur on South Great George's Street in Dublin, and Nisheeth Tak, owner of Rasam in Dn Laoghaire, both alums of the Oberoi group, moved to Ireland with lofty goals and a shared vision for how to best communicate authentic Indian cuisine in a market devoid of coriander. And the evolution of Indian restaurants in Dublin demonstrates the increasing popularity of a cuisine that has supplanted the traditional steak and chips.