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History of Indian Food (Part 3)

The 1950s saw a great influx of Punjabis in the Southall area due to the specialised employment policy of Woolf’s Rubber Factory whose executive had personal experience of the excellence of Punjabi staff and Bengalis continued to settle around the Tower Hamlets area.


Until 1962 members of the Commonwealth were allowed to enter Britain freely but even thereafter many Asians came from Africa and a bigger group came from Kenya in 1968.


The fifties and sixties saw a rapid growth in Indian restaurant numbers in Britain, especially London and the South East, where over 45% of Indian restaurants are still located.


Gradually the Indian restaurant concept spread aall over Britain, even though those running the restaurants were often not Indian at all. Until Bangladeshi Independence in 1971 at least three quarters of ‘Indian’ restaurants in Britain were Pakistani owned. After 1971, the geographical differences became clear, with over half the restaurants owned and managed by Bangladeshis, most of whom were from the one area of Sylhet. Once you reach Birmingham, however, the situation changes with the number of Bangladeshis decreasing and Pakistanis increasing. By the time you reach Bradford and Manchester, the restaurateurs are almost entirely Pakistani, Kashmiri and North Indian and once you reach Glasgow the concentration is almost entirely Punjabi as it is in the Southall, Wembley region of London.


In Birmingham Abdul Aziz opened a cafe shop selling curry and rice in Steelhouse Lane in 1945 which became The Darjeeling, the first Indian in Birmingham, owned by  Afrose Miah although some say it was The Shah Bag on Bristol Street owned by Abul Kalam Nozmul Islam who also owned Anuh Bag. The growth really got underway in the 1950’s. The Aloka opened on Bristol Street in 1960 and Banu on Hagley Road in 1969.


Manchester started with the Bahadur brother’s Kohinoor in Oxford Street followed by Malik Bokth with The Everest, Nojir Uddin who opened Monzil and Lal Miah who opened The Orient. Rajdoot, long a favourite in Manchester, opened in 1966. Malik Miah Guri, manager at The Kohinoor, moved to Birmingham and opened The Shalimar at Dale End.


In Bradford,The Sweet Centre on Lumb Lane which opened in 1964 was one of the earliest after The Kashmir in Morley Street in 1958. When the owner of The Shafi, Mr Dharan died in 1963, Ahmed Kutub, who worked there, went to open his own restaurant in Newcastle and in the 1950s Rashid Ali moved from a cafe shop in London’s Drummond Street to Cardiff to open his own establishment. The first restaurant to open in the north was The Anglo Asian on Ocean Road, South Shields run by Syed Lukman Ali.


There are recipes(Manchester LIbrary) dating back to 1769, written by the house keeper at Arley Hall in Cheshire. The first curry houses in the North West were cafes, set up for the men who had come to the region from the Asian subcontinent in the 1950s to work in the textile mills.


North of the border, the first record is of a restaurant opened in Glasgow by Dr Deb from Nawakhali before 1939 and since that time the management staff in most existing restaurants seem to have developed from just two original Punjabi style establishments giving rise to a great similarity of menu. Khushi's (Edinburgh)was founded in 1947 by a man called Khushi Mohammed, a door-to-door salesman who opened a restaurant to cater to his homesick compatriots.


According to most pundits, however, the first curry shop opened in the city in 1954, although there had been cafes for seamen and others of Asian origin before this. The Taj Mahal was opened in Park Road by Sultan Ahmed Ansari. The great man died in 1995, having triggered the mushrooming effect that has created the Glasgow curry scene of today - that is unless you listen to the other stories that say the first was Green Gates in Bank Street in 1959!


Whichever is correct, it was a time when you could have a feast for just over 3 shillings (15p today). The credentials of the Taj Mahal are confirmed by Ansari's daughter, Noreen, who remembers going to the restaurant after school. For his part, Nasim Ahmed, whose father Noor Mohammed started Green Gates and then went on to found the Shish Mahal dynasty, remembers 2 shilling (10p) curries and being pressed into service as a waiter and kitchen porter.


Menus were basic and people would set their own cutlery to encourage  speedier service. Then the Shish Mahal opened in Gibson Street offering a very different scene, with dinner-jacketed waiters and flock wallpaper, soon to be followed by the Koh-i-Noor, opened by their cousin, Rasul Tahir. Unfortunately, once the curry centre of Glasgow, the inlfuence of Gibson Street is no more. The Koh-i-Noor moved to its present incarantion in Charing Cross and the Shish Mahal to the premises that were originally occupied by Taj Mahal, Ansari having sold out after 30 years to move into the hotel business.

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