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History of Indian Food (Part 4)

The cuisine moved up-market again with the Indian (as opposed to Pakistani) influence of Balbir Sumal's Ashoka in the 1980s, which eventually led to the development of The Harlequin Group by his one-time partner, Charan Gill. Although Glasgow can celebrate 50 years of curry history in 2004, but, before they get carried away - would it be too impolitic to point out that Kushi's was opened in Edinburgh in 1947 - so which city was first, after all?


In the sixties and seventies, owners began to make serious monies from the industry, with people such as Rajiv Ali, now Chairman of the South East Bank in Bangladesh having found his fortune with a curry house on Whitechapel Road E1. Haji Abdul Razzah came to Britain with an early wave of immigrants and lived in Kentish Town in 1960. He returned to Bangladesh in 1985 and now owns The Polash Hotel in Sylhet having made his fortune from ‘chicken tikka masala’.


The three main influences on the growth of Indian restaurants were firstly the growing affluence and cosmopolitan nature of the British public and secondly the introduction of the tandoor in the sixties.


The tandoor came, originally from the Middle East with the name deriving from the Babylonian word ‘tinuru’ meaning fire. Hebrew and Arabic then made it tannur then tandur in Turkey, Central Asia and, finally Pakistan and India, who made it famous worldwide. The first tandoor in India in a restaurant is said to have been in the Kashmiri Moti Mahal in New Delhi in 1948 and several restaurants have claimed to be the first to have a tandoor in Britain. Initial research suggested the man responsible was, in fact, Mahendra Kaul who started the excellent Gaylord group and it was The Gaylord in Mortimer Street who advertised it in a Palladium Theatre programme in 1966. Mr Kaul had taken the tandoor to America for the Worlds Fair in 1964 then loaned it and his staff to a restaurant in Whitfield Street, London that no longer exists, before starting the Gaylord. He is still a partner in Chor Bizarre in London making him one of the most experienced people still working in the industry. Recently viewed archived documents at Veeraswamy indicate, however, a tandoor in use much earlier, in 1959 and so, this famous restaurant seems to have been responsible for the earliest introduction of tandoori style dishes to the UK, although it would be some ten years and more before the tandoor became widely used in Britain. If you had visited Veerawamy's, as it was then called, in December 1959 you could have enjoyed Chicken Tandoori (allow 15-20 minutes) for the princely sum of ten shillings and sixpence. The first evidence of a tandoor in Glasgow is not until 1978 but is likely to have been some years earlier.


The other major influence was the continued growth of immigration to provide the people to staff the growing number of Indian restaurants. 360,000 Bangladeshis are forecast for the year 2050.


In 1960 there were just 500 Indian restaurants in Britain but by 1970 this had grown to 1200. With the influx after Bangladesh Independence numbers grew rapidly to 3000 in 1980 and by 2000 there were almost 8000 Indian restaurants in Britain turning over more than £2 billion a year employing some 70,000 people as one of the major industries in the country. Chicken Tikka Masala, a British-Bangladeshi creation predating the relatively short-lived balti craze has become so popular that it is available in a wide variety of forms ranging from crisps to pies and statistics show that 14.6% of all first choices in restaurants are for the dish which has no real recipe and can vary from hot to creamy and red to green.


The first to claim its invention are descendants of Sultan Ahmed Ansari who owned The Taj Mahal in Glasgow in 1950’s but it is also claimed by Ali Ahmed Aslam who took over the restaurant from him and called it Shish Mahal circa 1970. Sheikh Abdul Khalique from Essex also claimed the creation of CTM as it was nicknamed by Colleen Grove in Spice-n-Easy Magazine in 1994, as have half a dozen other chefs and, according to folklore, it came about when gravy loving Brits wanted a sauce with their Chicken Tikka and Condensed Tomato Soup with added spices was used on the spur of the moment in a flash of commercially motivated creation.


In 1982, Taj International Hotels flew in the face of advice and opened The Bombay Brasserie in Courtfield Road SW7 under Adi Modi and changed the entire Indian restaurant scene once again by setting a new benchmark for quality.


There are around 40 Indian restaurants in Suffolk. Making Suffolk a very popular place for lovers of Indian cuisine.  One of which is the Maharani Indian Restaurant Suffolk.

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