The British love affair with curry is as strong as ever. As a nation of fanatics, many will be looking forward to the twenty-second National Curry Week, taking place from the 5th to 11th October. Alongside the old favourites, today you will find restaurants specialising in Indian street food as well as fine dining offering a modern twist on traditional recipes.
History of the curry
We have been enjoying curry for more than 200 years, with the first establishment opening in 1809 in central London. Although it wasn’t a successful venture, it set the path for many more to come. After 1971, there was an influx of Bangladeshis following war in their homeland, particularly to London's rundown East End. Many entered the catering trade, specifically the curry industry. By 1982 there were 3,500 curry restaurants in Britain and today there are approximately 12,000.
Indian or British?
It may taste spicy and look like it was created in the Raj, but many of our favourite dishes are simply unrecognisable in India. Former foreign secretary Robin Cooke hailed Chicken Tikka Masala as 'Britain's real national dish.' However, it would cause confusion in India because it was actually created in Britain when a chef added tomato and onion paste to grilled chicken. Other so-called Indian staples are also not authentic and include dishes such as vindaloo, jalfrezi or a madras curry. In fact, there is plenty of debate over where the word curry hails from. Some believe it is from the Tamil word kari meaning a spiced sauce or stew, although experts can’t be sure of its origins.
What is a curry?
In Britain, we recognise a curry as being a dish using spices and herbs with meat, fish and vegetables from various Asian countries including Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and of course India. Curries in southern India will use ingredients such as coriander, cumin, cardamom and turmeric. Recipes throughout Asia will feature chilli, cinnamon, garlic, ginger, garam masala, onions, lemongrass, curry leaves, pepper and mustard seeds.
Not sure what to order? According to Deliveroo, these are some of the most searched for.
Chicken Tikka – spiced chunks of chicken in a tomato and creamy sauce. Usually enjoyed with naan bread.
Punjabi Butter Chicken – known in India as Murgh Makhani, this dish is packed full of spices, green chillies and coriander. The rich sauce is made with yoghurt, tomato and butter.
Madras – a fiery curry sauce served with yoghurt to tame your taste buds. Often served with chicken or lamb.
Chicken Korma – for those that are scared of spices, this is a popular option. This sweet, nutty flavour and texture comes from almonds, cashews and yoghurt.
Lamb Jalfrezi – perfect for chili lovers. Lamb, green chillies, onions and peppers stir fried in a hot pan for melt in the mouth meat and tender veg.
How to serve a curry
Whatever curry you go for, there’s an assortment of side dishes to choose from.
Bread – if you’ve never made bread before, Indian flatbreads, or a naan, is a good place to start. Lots of variations such as mango chutney naan or you can pimp up shop bought naans with cheese and chilli, rosemary and garlic or courgettes and coriander.
Rice – forget plain white rice, there are so many ways of adding an extra punch. What about Turmeric pilau with onions, lightly spiced pistachio or a mix of lentils and rice.
Dhal – elevate a simple pulse into a nourishing dhal. Some recipes require split lentils and others use them whole. You can select red, black or green lentils with each having a different flavour and texture.
Potatoes – a filling accompaniment to curry with lots of variations on the humble spud. Some of the favourites include Bombay potatoes, Indian oven chips flavoured with turmeric, fennel seed, garlic and ginger, spicy potatoes and Sag aloo, meaning spinach and potato.
Green vegetables – some of the most popular in Indian cooking include spiced broccoli with paneer, Indian spiced greens and Gujurati cabbage recipe which contains a pungent root called asafoetida, which should be used sparingly.
Samosas – traditionally made with ghee and refined maida flour. For an easy recipe, use filo pastry and fill with vegetables or mince.
Chutney – a good chutney or pickle will help complete the dish. Mango chutney, lime pickle or fresh tomato chutney will add the perfect finishing touches
What to drink with a curry
There’s more to drink with a curry than larger. It may be the obvious choice and many will not hear of any alternatives but if larger is not your thing, there are plenty of options. Crisp, well-chilled white wines such as Riesling are a refreshing accompaniment. If you can take the heat, Indians often drink a red wine with their meal. But be warned, the alcohol and tannin tend to ramp up the heat in spicy food. With a lighter curry, a mango lassi or a mango, ginger and lime gin goes very well. A cocktail is also an ideal partner to the spicy flavours of Indian food. Long and refreshing, the Smirnoff Madras will keep you cool or a classic gin and tonic is a taste of the old Raj. To complement the taste, go for cocktails with pineapple or spiced gingerbread.
Depending on how full you are, curry and cake can make a great pairing. Gajar Ka Halwa is a delicious Indian carrot cake which works well with a scoop of delicately spiced cinnamon or good vanilla ice cream. Eaten in India since the 16th Century, ice cold Kulfi is flavoured with pistachio for a sophisticated nutty flavour. Mango is one of the most popular fruits in India, simply peel and slice and squeeze the juice of a fresh lime. You can also add pineapple with finely chopped mint and if you find Chickoo in specialist shops, add with coconut shavings and pomegranate seeds. If you want something a little more indulgent, Chocolate Barfi is a classic Indian sweet fudge made mostly with milk, flavourings and lots of sugar.