A brief history of British Indian food: A tale of two continents

The history of Indian food in the UK is a fascinating tale that spans centuries, tracing the cultural exchange and culinary evolution between two nations.

Today, Indian cuisine is now an integral part of British food culture, with curry houses and Indian-inspired dishes readily available throughout the country.

This popularity did not emerge overnight but grew gradually over time, shaped by historic events, migration patterns, and changing tastes.

The roots of Indian food in Britain can traced back to the colonial period when the British East India Company established its presence in the Indian subcontinent during the 17th century.

British officers and soldiers stationed in India developed a fondness for the varied and vibrant flavours of Indian food. They brought back to Britian spices, recipes, and a newfound appreciation for this exotic fare.

By the 18th century, Indian food a begun to pique the interest of the British elite, leading the emergence of “Indian-style” dishes in upper-class households. Indian ingredients such as turmeric, cumin, and cardamom began appearing in British recipes, bringing to life a fusion of Indian and British culinary traditions.

This early exposure to Indian flavours laid the foundation for the eventual popularity of Indian cuisine food in the UK.

However, it was not until the mid-20th century that Indian food truly gained widespread recognition in Britain.

Following India’s independence in 1947, a significant wave of migration from the Indian subcontinent took place, mostly due to economic factors and painful political turmoil.

Many Indian immigrants settled in the UK, bringing with them their rich culinary heritage.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the first Indian restaurants opened in major British cities, catering primarily to the South Asian community. These establishments served authentic Indian dishes and became popular meeting places for the immigrant population. As time went on, the popularity of Indian food spread beyond the Indian community, as British diners developed a taste for the aromatic curries, tandoori dishes, and delicious spices.

The 1970s marked a turning point for Indian cuisine food in the UK. The proliferation of Indian restaurants accelerated, and the concept the “curry house “ took hold.

These establishments adapted their menus to suit British tastes by toning down the spiciness and developing milder, more accessible variations of Indian dishes. The inexpensive and delicious offerings of curry houses attracted a variety of customers, further sustaining the demand for Indian food.

Today, Indian food is an important part of British gastronomy. It has become a national favourite, with Indian restaurants scattered throughout the UK, from bustling cities to small towns.

The British curry has even become a dish in its own right, with classics like chicken tikka masala and lamb rogan josh considered iconic British meals.

In the ensuing decades, Indian cuisine continued to gain popularity in the UK. British tastes became more adventurous, embracing the range of regional Indian foods. Indian restaurants diversified their menus, offering dishes from different regions of India, such as Punjabi, Bengali, Gujarati, and South Indian specialties. Indian street food, with its vibrant flavours, found it’s place in the British food scene.

The popularity of Indian food in the UK can be traced to the rich history of cultural exchange between the two countries, migration patterns, and the versatility of Indian restaurateurs to cater to developing British tastes. It stands as a testament to the long-lasting impact of Indian cuisine and its ability to delight the tastes buds of people around the world.

A visit to London is incomplete without indulging in a delicious Indian meal.

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