UK: Cold Climate – Hot Hearts!
Here in the UK we have a famous love of food. Visitors to England are always keen to try steak and kidney pie, roast beef, and of course, fish and chips. Who would visit Wales and not try Welsh rarebit (cheese on toast) or Ireland and not sample Irish stew? And, naturally, there is Scotland – home of the deep-fried Mars Bar (exactly what it sounds like!) and haggis (best not to ask what the ingredients are…).
So, what is our national dish? None of the above! In fact it is… curry!
Those of you that are surprised by this may like to have a quick history lesson. Curries originate in India, where the locally-grown spices used in curry helped to preserve meat – as well as to disguise the flavours of any ‘less than fresh’ ingredients. The British East India Company started to control India from the 17th century. Soon, the British Empire controlled and ruled over the whole country; Queen Victoria was crowned ‘Empress of India’. It is not surprising, therefore, that the British settlers in India started to send recipes and ingredients back home.
The first recorded curry restaurant was in London, over 200 years ago. In 1809, the Hindostanee Coffee House was a well-known location for smoking, drinking coffee, and – according to a newspaper advertisement – eating «Indian dishes, in the highest perfection… unequalled to any curries ever made in England.» The curry house was very popular with British ex-army families that had lived in India and had moved back to London.
Since then, a lot has changed. India is independent, the British Empire is non-existent, and most importantly, curries have made themselves a new home!
Every British city now has countless Indian restaurants and Indian take-aways, from very posh and expensive respected restaurants, to the cheap and cheerful curry shops offering questionable-quality meat! Whatever the quality, each offers a range of spiced dishes, from the very mild Korma, to the more adventurous Madras or Jalfrezi, to the very hot Vindaloo. The most popular – and named the UK’s national dish – is the Chicken Tikka Massala. This dish is of medium heat and is spiced chicken, cooked in a delicate tomato sauce. Interestingly, people in India have never heard of it – it was invented in Birmingham, England.
Even more interesting is the British fascination with making curries as hot as possible – more on that in another article…