So, before all my Indian friends read this and ask me ‘when did you turn British?’, let me clarify that I do know that ‘curry’ is a short term for vegetable in South India (karigai) and ‘any Indian dish with gravy’ in North India (otherwise also referred to as x masala, y masala, z curry and so on). Ideally, that is how it is defined in the dictionary as well – ‘a spicy dish of oriental, esp Indian, origin that is made in many ways but usually consists of meat or fish prepared in with curry seasoning or sauce’.
So, if I were to randomly suggest ‘let’s go for a curry’ in India, someone may misconstrue this as vegetable shopping and wonder why I invited them for the same. Or, they may ask ‘which curry do you want’. But, the answer I doubt would be ‘which curry place should we go to?’.
In London however, if I were to suggest curry, I’d be whisked off to Brick lane before I knew it. We may land up ordering Tandoori chicken or chicken tikka masala with naan and definitely, going by what I grew up with, this is in no means curry.
All this just made me wonder how on earth curry became the National dish of Britian. So, I looked up the history of curry in Britain and found this interesting article. Some snippets here.
As reported in the BBC News, the British have fancied Curry for more than 200 years now. “Indian dishes, in the highest perfection… unequalled to any curries ever made in England.” So ran the 1809 newspaper advert for a new eating establishment in an upmarket London square popular with colonial returnees. Diners at the Hindostanee Coffee House could smoke hookah pipes and recline on bamboo-cane sofas as they tucked into spicy meat and vegetable dishes. This was the country’s first dedicated Indian restaurant, opened by an entrepreneurial migrant by the name of Dean Mahomed.
Peter Groves, co-founder of National Curry Week, which started on Sunday, says the Western taste for spicy foods developed centuries earlier. “All the spices of the East came back with the people who fought in the Crusades.” The lucrative spice trade prompted various European powers to establish their presence in India, either through trading companies or colonisation. This “masala” of cultures, and the Mughal conquest of India, resulted in hybrid creations, including Persian-inspired biryani and vindaloo, a Goan version of a Portuguese meat dish.
Indians tend to label dishes by specific names like korma and dopiaza. “Curry is a catch-all term,” says Dr Lizzie Collingham, author of Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors. “It’s easy shorthand for ‘what Indians eat’.”
Thanks to the British, the rest of the world or atleast Europe refers to any Indian food as Curry. Anyway, what does all this have to do with cultural learning. Going back and forth between Austria and London, I can’t tell you how much I miss the simple home cooked Indian curry. Far from the greasy, partially sweet, cashew gravy stuff they call Curry in London and the oily, fake garam masala heavy Curry I tried once in Austria.
In general, I cannot cook to save my life. Well, that’s what people at home (Mumbai) always told me. If anything can drive me to the kitchen, to cook a simple Indian curry, its the food in this part of the world. And, that has brought about a miraculous change in my cooking skills. I am not saying this. My Czech and German friends, who sampled my Indian cooking in Austria, think I’m the Jamie Oliver of India. True. That was one session a couple of months ago. It gave me hope that there would be other Austrians, happy to lend their kitchen for an experimental cooking session. That way, I get my home cooked meal and they get a taste of the real curry.
After 3 months of constant search, I’ve managed that finally. But wait, here is the surprise. 2 British. 1 Australian. 1 Malaysian. 1 Venezuelan. 1 Czech. Confirmed. Funny that I couldn’t get 1 Austrian to confirm for a ‘Curry night’.
When I mentioned this to my friends back home, they said ‘what the hell is a curry night? Get the hell out of Austria and come home for some good food.’
When I mentioned this to a friend in London, he asked me innocently ‘Why? Don’t the Austrians like Curry?’. And, I thought to myself ‘Well, I don’t think the issue is with Curry. I just think the Austrians don’t like socializing’.
But hey! I think if I make a beer flavoured curry, I’ll have a few Austrians signing up for sure.