Why Do The Brits Love Their Curry?

I haven't traveled across the pond in several years. But thanks to BBC America, Gordon Ramsay and other high-profile British chefs, I've managed to somewhat keep up with their ever evolving cuisine. Maybe it's just my American ignorance, but each day I hear less and less about fish and chips or bangers and mash, and more and more about curry.

So what is it about Chicken Tikka Masala that everyone over there is raving about, and why do some people call it the National Dish of Great Britain?

(Note: Apologies for any errors or omissions in this text. I'm not a Brit. Blame Google.)

How It All Started

The McCarran-Walter Act in the United States, which ran from the early 50's to the mid 60's, drastically reduced immigration to the United States. This resulted in the diversion of many immigrants to Great Britain. That, coupled with England's push for immigrant labor from the subcontinent during the 1950s resulted in new cultures and cuisines for the British to discover.

During this time, various military personnel who were stationed in India acquired a definite taste for the spicy cuisine and brought those flavors back home with them. As a matter of fact, Mulligatawny soup is believed to have originated from one of their spicy sauces. And kedgeree, now an English breakfast dish, began as an Indian rice and lentil dish.

As the Indian immigrants settled in Great Britain, many of them began to open small restaurants in relatively affordable neighborhoods. At that time, dining out was not a deeply rooted tradition in England, and the cuisine that the Brits did eat was neither spicy nor filled with big flavors. So as these restaurants opened, the Brits slowly began to patronize these restaurants and were amazed both at the taste of this new cuisine and the fact that it was so affordable.

The country was instantly addicted, and curry began to take off in popularity. This popularity was greatly boosted by Queen Elizabeth II's coronation in 1953, as the main dish that was served was a curry-style dish that was named "Coronation Chicken."

What Is Curry?

In the subcontinent, arice and other boiled or baked grains were staples of their diets. Curry essentially is any meat, fish or vegetable cooked up in a very flavorable gravy, and is designed to lend flavor to the blandness of the grains. So the heart of any curry dish is the blend of spices that are used.

The combination and amount of spices depends on where the dish originated. For example, in Calcutta, the blend will include white cumin, fennel, fenugreek, mustard or celery seed and onion. In Dhaka, black cumin and aniseed would replace the celery seed, onion and fennel. The number of spices used in curry blends could be many or as few as three.

In most curry dishes, a common sauce base is created, and then the spice blends are added as individual dishes are cooked. Other popular additions to the sauce base are peppers, ginger, garlic or tomatoes.

Not all 'curry' dishes are made in this manner, however. One of the favorites in Great Britain, Koorma, is a good example. The name of the dish refers to the style of cooking rather than the spice blend that is used. It's a slow-cooked method that includes oil, garlic, ginger, onion and lamb marinated in yogurt.

Curry in England Today

In England, 'curry house' refers to an Indian restaurant, and 'Indian' food refers to any food that comes from Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Nepalese and Sri Lankan cuisines, or cuisines from any country in the Indian sub-continent. That said, if you walked down a grocery store aisle in England, you'd probably think that 'curry' to them meant anything that had spices in it!

Today, approximately 85% of the curry houses in England are Bangladeshi-owned, and they tend to offer a large assortment of curry dishes incorporating many elements of Indian cuisine.

The far and away most favored curry dish in England is Chicken Tikka Masala. It is so popular, in fact, that it's also a topping for pizza and is available on the InterCity rail line. This demonstrates the Brits' desire and ability to adapt. Chicken Tikka was an Indian dish. The English, however, were used to meat and gravy and thus the Masala sauce was added.

How To Make Chicken Tikka Masala

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Comments 54 comments

Raj 6 months ago

Apparently the English now think they invented Curry, Onion Bhaji, Kiwi fruit, the Naga Bhut Jolokia, they even to make the best Vodka, is there nothing the English will stoop at tipping off, the only original idea they have had, it, yoink....must steal that and profess that it is a Brit invention.


Raj 19 months ago

I just have been to a several Indian run pubs where members pf the EDL gathered, and where people were concerned about the level of Pakis, my question is why do you go to Indian eateries, if you think England was better without the Indians? The American Indians used to have a saying that white man speak with fork tongue. How true that is.


Shaun 2 years ago

Great article but I should point out something. Curry was popular in Britain long before the 1950s. As a result of the British Empire, Indian culture and cuisine became very fashionable during the Victorian age. Queen Victoria herself even had specially appointed Indian servants. These servants would be dressed in grand traditional Indian dress and were responsible for making curry in the Royal kitchens every day, on the Queen's orders. Fortnum and Mason began selling specialty curry powders to cater to the demands of the Aristocracy who began to eat vast amounts of curry, following in the Queen's example. So as you can see, Britain's love affair with curry has a longer and deeper history than you may think. Such was the connection with Indian culture, that the Queen even took lessons in Urdu. In fact, one of her last diary entries was written in urdu!!


Raj 4 years ago

You just have to see that British/English call it what you will is vile, no wonder food, which has comendium of flavours, and spices is so welcomed and now championed as British. It reminds me of the days when Rap music was banned and the English complained about it, now it is hailed as the greatest music ever. The British will hate the idea of something alien and foriegn as they have not invented it. I remember the Brits calling Indians, curry muncher, garlic breath, and smelly Pakis. Infact I rememeber a home economics lesson, where an Indian lad brought in some mince, (his mum had marinated the mince unbeknown to him in an Indian fashion. The topic was shepards, pie. As the spices warmed and the aroma prvaded, the open plan home economics lessons had all the teachers, saying whats that Paki food? It smells awful. Bloody garlic and curry they shouted. The poor Indian lad was ridiculed beyond belief. About a decade later that indian lad was a waiter in a Indian restraunt, and noted they same teachers who had beliitled and mocked his Indian culianary prowess were enjopying an Indian. At the end of the meal he reminded them of that day and said well its not just spices, garmam masala and all the things you saw as vile but this time I have added other ingrediants, some which the Enviromental Health dept would not be happy about.


Raj 4 years ago

You just have to see that British/English call it what you will is vile, no wonder food, which has comendium of flavours, and spices is so welcomed and now championed as British. It reminds me of the days when Rap music was banned and the English complained about it, now it is hailed as the greatest music ever. The British will hate the idea of something alien and foreign as they have not invented it. I remember the Brits calling Indians, curry muncher, garlic breath, and smelly Pakis. In fact I rememeber a home economics lesson, where an Indian lad brought in some mince, (his mum had marinated the mince unbeknown to him in an Indian fashion. The topic was shepards, pie. As the spices warmed and the aroma prvaded, the open plan home economics lessons had all the teachers, saying what's that Paki food? It smells awful. Bloody garlic and curry they shouted. The poor Indian lad was ridiculed beyond belief. About a decade later that indian lad was a waiter in an Indian restraunt, and noted they same teachers who had beliitled and mocked his Indian culianary prowess were enjopying an Indian. At the end of the meal he reminded them of that day and said well its not just spices, garmam masala and all the things you saw as vile but this time I have added other ingrediants, some which the Enviromental Health dept would not be happy about.


Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 5 years ago from The English Midlands

Chips with curry sauce are very popular. :)

There are lots of curry houses in the Midland, but lots of chippies, too.

My kids love prawn cocktail crisps, but I remember when the only 'flavour' was cheese and onion ~ and they are still my favourites!

My Dad returned from national service in 'Ceylon', with a love of curry. We used to eat it long before it became a national favourite :)


Gemma Sidney profile image

Gemma Sidney 5 years ago from Co Clare, Ireland

Great and very informative hub, but shouldn't the title be 'Britain: Why the British love their curry?'. There are three other countries in Britain, not just England. Sorry, I get a bit touchy about such things, as a Welsh person. I hope you don't mind a newbie pointing it out.


lrohner profile image

lrohner 7 years ago from USA Author

Thanks Wren!


wrenfrost56 profile image

wrenfrost56 7 years ago from U.K.

As a brit I love curry! A great read I found it really interesting. Can't wait to read more!


lrohner profile image

lrohner 7 years ago from USA Author

Too funny! But my kids, when younger, would probably agree with him!


yes2truth profile image

yes2truth 7 years ago from England

Hi,

Talking of fish and chips, did you ever hear the story of the little boy who said to his mum:

Mum, I love fish and chips it's just that white stuff in the middle I don't like!!


lrohner profile image

lrohner 7 years ago from USA Author

And to think I've never had a chicken korma OR a crisp butty, Frog! Matter of fact, I've only had curry once in my life.


frogdropping profile image

frogdropping 7 years ago

Irohner - this twiched the corners of my mouth up ... imagine a smile ... Brits and curry. And the national dish is normally considered fish and chips. Which I happen to dislike.

But anyway. Fab info on my homeland - curry wise anyway. And the crisp butty is true too. I enjoyed the odd cheese and onion crisp butty. Always Walkers Cheese and Onion. And not really heart attack material. Just ... tasty and crispy.

And funnily enough I've just made a chicken korma. Simões loves them and I seem to make rather nice ones :)


minilady 7 years ago

I'm just back from a visit to UK and your title question was one which I asked myself! I'm Indian and lived in Britain in the sixties and for a while in the eighties. There were several Bangladeshi-run Indian restaurants at that time but nothing like at present! I was amused to see so many Indian food items in supermarkets and I really had to hunt for a Chippy to treat my son to a traditional meal of fish and chips!

As someone has mentioned, in Indian food Curry is actually a gravy. Indian food in Uk is mostly adapted to local taste and only in a few upmarket restaurants can you really taste authentic Indian food.


sunnieazgal 7 years ago

I absolutely LOVE curry! I was married into a family of Brits.. and was taught how to use it. I have to search the world over to find the curry block I used to use in Arizona. They don't have it in Pa. :(


lrohner profile image

lrohner 7 years ago from USA Author

Hey, Jaymo! Thanks for the info. I love prawns, but not sure I could actually eat one of those prawn-flavored chips! :)


JaymoJustice profile image

JaymoJustice 7 years ago from Saskatoon, Canada

Okay So im from the Uk and where i lived was about 22 Fish and chip shops, 17 chinese and 1 indian, I think its only in the main city's that's its coming into a big fashion due the High ranked executives wanted to broaden there racial awareness .

As for walkers prawn cocktail Potato chips you cant fault them until you have tried them, They taste nothing like prawn at all, I dislike prawns but prawn cocktail chips, how there to die for, walkers are getting weird though, Fish and chip flavored chips, and so on.


lrohner profile image

lrohner 7 years ago from USA Author

LOL yes2!


yes2truth profile image

yes2truth 7 years ago from England

They are crazy about their curry because curry is all that's left of The British Empire. India, the home of curry being the Jewel in The Crown of that Empire.

Dare I say curry is the consolation prize or is it the booby prize!!??

BTW I'm Anglo Saxon British and I can only bear mild curries.


hubpageswriter 7 years ago

I love curry too, the more spicier the better.. The Brits are cool, haaa... they know how to get some good tasting food definitely..


lrohner profile image

lrohner 7 years ago from USA Author

Like I said, not many Indian restaurants up here in New England. And I have to tell you my blondness sure came out with your comment. I only realized what you meant when you said "deff tikka" after I couldn't find anything in Google about what a "deff tikka" dish was. :)


badcompany99 7 years ago

You had to google a Tikka Roll, jeeeez ya haven't lived ; )


lrohner profile image

lrohner 7 years ago from USA Author

Thank you, Shiba! I have seen the movie but never made the connection with F&C until now!

Eagle - Glad you clarified. Was wondering how they did that with the mint jelly. :)

Bad - Thanks for stopping by. Had to Google a 'tikka roll', and it looks delish!!

Ryan - Great info. I've had original Indian curry, but never curry in England, hence my lack of knowledge. Thanks for the clarification!


ryankett 7 years ago

The reason is simple. Their was a large influx of Asian workers in the fifties to work in the blossoming cotton industry, mainly clothing manufacturing. They simply brought their way of life including the cooking with them. These recipes have been adapted over time to suit the ingredients that are readily available in the UK. The families of these immigrants are now third and fourth generation and the currys that they cook are very different to actual curries cooked in India. They were adapted in a way to the British taste.


badcompany99 7 years ago

I love my curry and deff tikka, actually love a tikka roll with mayo, pure heaven and I am Irish !


Eaglekiwi profile image

Eaglekiwi 7 years ago from -Oceania

flavoured Irohner...flavoured...lmao...( could you imgine stickin ya hand into a bag of mint jelly in the dark)...gosh i must be tired ,laughin my head off over potato chips. ( or worse an intimate movie) ahahaha...


shibashake profile image

shibashake 7 years ago

I love curry! :) And a great hub on the history of curry in the U.K.

When I visited London, I ate Chinese cuisine, Indian cuisine, and Spanish cuisine. I was happy to skip the F&C. Btw - have you watched Fish Called Wanda? F&C always reminds me of that movie :)


lrohner profile image

lrohner 7 years ago from USA Author

Eagle, roast lamb and mint jelly?? Good grief...


Eaglekiwi profile image

Eaglekiwi 7 years ago from -Oceania

woohoo great hub my friend!

curry just means gravy is how a dear indian chef taught me,though obviously different spices make mild to burn yer face off spices ,ahahaha...all vary. fun, colorful hub, butter chicken yummmy....

Lol @ potato chips , gosh we have all the kinds mentioned above even roast lamb n mint jelly if you please....honey soy chips are good , tomato sauce range, and get this my son informs me ,they just released a marmite (like vegemite ,but better) and cheese variety of chips , hows that to grosse you all out ....apparently its popular..lol


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London

there are still a lot like that.


bgamall profile image

bgamall 7 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada

What I meant is that when I went to England many years ago there were small independent curry restaurants where three guys would wait on you and the curry was sensational. It was something I still remember and feel I am cheated by most curry ever since!


lrohner profile image

lrohner 7 years ago from USA Author

Wow, Wanrey! Great info! While it sounds like an instant heart attack, I will definitely try the crisp butty this weekend. The rolls you describe sound like what we call a "hard roll", generally made in Italian bakeries here.

And beef flavored potato chips? I'll have to trust you that they're good, because I'm not sure that I've brave enough to try them!


wanrey profile image

wanrey 7 years ago from Canada

Speaking as an expat Brit one of the reasons the small "curry houses" caught on in  Britain was the influx of Asian mainly Chinese immigrants who bought out 90% of the small fish and chip shops (chippy's) previously owned and operated by the Brits and started to sell Chinese food alongside with the fish and chips, obviously they were experts at Chinese food not so much the fish and chips. They could not master the art of the batter often making it very thick and really greasy , also many shops left the heads on the fish a cardinal sin in the north of Britain , but something the southerners seemed to accept  without much issue. Finding good fish and chips was getting to be a bit of a problem particularly in Northern England then up popped Harry Ramsden's string of traditional English chippy's realizing fish and chips was a dieing art he cashed in . Fish and chips in Britain are not dead just a little harder to find .I believe  they still run a national competition to see who makes the best fish and chips I saw the results in the Times one year..

Ok as far as the crisps are concerned you left off the favorites of my youth  beef or oxo flavored  crisps. While on the subject of crisps let me offer to you a little known Manchester delicacy known as the "crisp butty" easy for you to make even here "traditionally made" with either salt and vinegar or cheese and onion crisps( you may substitute  sour cream and onion) and a barm cake (a crusty  round bread roll cooked on the bottom of the oven similar to hamburger buns but crustier or the outside (in Manchester we used to call the softer type hamburger buns muffins) So take a crusty bread roll slice spread liberally  with  butter pile on an inch thick layer of crisps and eat, you won't be able to stop at just one I guarantee it. Substitute hand cut and peeled french fries for the crisps generously apply salt and vinegar (preferably malt vinegar) this is another Manchester treat known simply  as the "chip butty" The butty as you have undoubtedly pieced together by now is a term used only in and around Manchester for a sandwich going further North .or south even most Brits won't know what your talking about if you ask for a butty.


lrohner profile image

lrohner 7 years ago from USA Author

Not sure what that means, but I'll back it! Thanks, bgmall!


bgamall profile image

bgamall 7 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada

I love curry in independent Indian restaurants in London.


lrohner profile image

lrohner 7 years ago from USA Author

Thanks for stopping by, LG! In the U.S., BBQ flavored is far and away the most popular. We also have Sour Cream & Onion, Cheddar, Salt & Vinegar (my fav) and a host of lesser known chips flavored with either hot sauce or some type of spicy pepper.


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London

"BBQ Rib, Prawn Cocktail, Cheese & Onion, Roast Chicken, Salt & Vinegar, Steak & Onion, Smokey Bacon and Pickled Onion."

Not come across the BBQ ones, but the other crisp flavours are the standard ones in any newsagents, etc. What flavours do Americans have for crisps?


lrohner profile image

lrohner 7 years ago from USA Author

Gosh, Erick, and I have to drive into NYC to find Indian food! I haven't really acquired a taste for it yet, but there's always hope!


Erick Smart 7 years ago

I have to admit that I love Indian food with all the curry. We have several restaurants here that have brought the flavors to my city right here in the US.


lrohner profile image

lrohner 7 years ago from USA Author

LOL Brenda! I'd take a good dish of English-made fish and chips any day over any curry dish!


\Brenda Scully 7 years ago

Well there are more people eat curry in England because there are really cheap indian restraunts, lots of indian people, who sell all the ingredients you can possibly hope for.......... and fish and chips are boring


lrohner profile image

lrohner 7 years ago from USA Author

Thanks, GR. Maybe you should do a hub on South African curry?


GRIM REAPER 7 years ago

Brits dont know curry like South Africa, that's where the Brits got the ideas.

South African curries far better and in depth

Lovely site though makes me hungry for a big plate of beef curry and rice with masala


lrohner profile image

lrohner 7 years ago from USA Author

Maggs - thanks for stopping by. But pickled onion chips? Ummmm...not sure those would fly here in the U.S.!


maggs224 profile image

maggs224 7 years ago from Sunny Spain

Yes we Brits love our flavoured crisps, my daughter now lives in the USA I am visiting her at Christmas and on my list of things to bring her are crisps that she can't get there smokey bacon, cheese and onion and pickled onion are among the ones she has asked for. Must admit I like all of them too

Walkers brought out six new flavours and asked people to vote for the one they liked best Builders Breakfast flavour won you can find out what the other flavours were at http://www.walkers-crisps.co.uk/flavours/default.a.../flavours/  Chili and chocolate was another yuk


lrohner profile image

lrohner 7 years ago from USA Author

Oh no.... Now I am totally grossed out. Do people really buy (eat) those things? Except for the salt & vinegar. Those are pretty big up here in the Northeast. And yummy too, I might add.


KCC Big Country profile image

KCC Big Country 7 years ago from Central Texas

If you look up "Walker's" brand crisps you'll find the following flavors: BBQ Rib, Prawn Cocktail, Cheese & Onion, Roast Chicken, Salt & Vinegar, Steak & Onion, Smokey Bacon and Pickled Onion.


lrohner profile image

lrohner 7 years ago from USA Author

NO, KCC!!! You are kidding!!! Blech! Although in retrospect, we put pineapple on pizza over here. Now if THAT isn't disgusting....


KCC Big Country profile image

KCC Big Country 7 years ago from Central Texas

Don't get me started on their flavored potato chips! They have prawn flavored!


lrohner profile image

lrohner 7 years ago from USA Author

LOL Asher! Basically, "curry" is a generic term that the Brits use for just about any main dish food from India or the subcontinent. They've even got Chicken Tikka Masala-flavored "crisps" (crackers) too. Guess it's not so different from our "BBQ-flavored chips"!


AsherKade profile image

AsherKade 7 years ago from Texas

My first thought when I saw this hub was...isn't that an Indian spice? I use it all the time because I love exotic food.


KCC Big Country profile image

KCC Big Country 7 years ago from Central Texas

My British hubby loooooves curries and insists that I would like them as well. I'm a little skeptical, though.


lrohner profile image

lrohner 7 years ago from USA Author

See, I knew Google was going to foul me up! :) Thanks Gypsy! I'll go and do a bit more research...


Gypsy Willow profile image

Gypsy Willow 7 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

Oh dear, Irohner, it was not the West Indians that started the Curry tradition. It was the Indians from India. The West Indians brought us Callypso, ganja and their own cuisine. Curry was originally designed to kill bugs and diguise the flavor of spoiled meat in the days when little refrigeration was around. Brits love the modern version because it is frequently cold and miserable in the UK so a nice hot curry hits the spot! Besides it is delicious. Your Brit Friend Gypsy Willow!

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