The first Indian restaurant in Britain (the Hindoostane Coffee House) was established in 1810 and restaurants serving spicy food remained popular throughout the 19th Century. However, it was post-World War II, when a large number of Asians from Commonwealth come to Britain, that the number of restaurants really boomed. The chefs soon learnt to adapt their dishes to local tastes and many authentic dishes have been adapted and mixed over the years to create a particular style of dishes known as British Indian Restaurant (BIR)-Style. Today there are an estimated 12,000 such restaurants in the country in Britain, mostly run by Indians, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis and Nepalis. In a Royal Curry Club survey we asked: “What’s your favourite curry?” Jalfrezi stormed the poll, with 41% saying that dish was their favourite, with Biryani coming in second. Tikka Masala, once dubbed “a national dish of Britain” flopped, with only 19% of curry lovers choosing the old creamy favourite. Madras and the super-mild Korma came in at fourth and fifth curry house favourites.
Here are Five Favourite Restaurant Curries.
1. Jalfrezi (Medium-Hot)
Jalfrezi was originally a stir-fry created by Bengali chefs working during the Raj-era. In true British restaurant-style it has evolved into something quite different from the original Chicken Jalfrezi, where the ingredients were cooked in their own juices. Restaurants add some Base Curry Sauce and mix it with different coloured peppers, onions, tomatoes and chillies to create a lovely range of tastes and colours. The dish can be cooked with a variety of main ingredients but Chicken Jalfrezi remains the most popular.
2. Biryani (Medium)
There are many different types of Biryani. The British-restaurant version is little more than pilau rice with some pre-cooked ingredients added to it. The authentic cooking method is very time consuming and few restaurants (or their customers) have the time for it. The South Indian Hyderbadi Pakki Biryani uses chunks of lamb (or mutton if you prefer) that is pre-cooked (Pakki) then added to the rice and steamed. It also includes cooked and fried chunks of potato and is finished off with saffron and fried onions.
3. Chicken Tikka Masala (Mild-Medium)
Often called Britain’s “national dish”, some people refuse to order anything else but Chicken Tikka Masala on a visit to an Indian restaurant. Chunks of Chicken Tikka are cooked with green peppers and tomatoes and simmered in a mix of Base Curry Sauce, Tikka Marinade, yoghurt and cream. The dish is widely accepted to have been created in Scotland, when an enterising chef realised the Chicken Tikka was too dry for his diners so he added some creamy masala sauce.
4. Madras (Hot)
Lamb Madras is one of the most-ordered dishes in Indian restaurants. Meaty chunks of lamb are cooked gently in the Base Curry Sauce that’s given an extra kick with the black peppercorns and chilli powder. Madras is another British Indian Restaurant creation and you certainly wouldn’t find it in Chennai (formerly called Madras). In the early days the restauranteurs simply used the name to mean a hot curry. They used Vindaloo to mean a very hot curry. Chicken Madras and Prawn Madras are also popular.
5. Korma (Very Mild)
Having shaken off the reputation of being the “beginner’s curry”, the mild Korma is gaining in popularity again. And it’s no surprise that chicken is the preferred choice for this delicious dish. This recipe avoids the sickly sweetness and coconut dished up by some restaurants and mixes onions, yoghurt and cream to create a creamy smoothness. Chicken Korma and Paneer Korma are the favourites for diners.