Other things on this site...

Evolutionary sound
Listen to Flat Four Internet Radio
Learn about
The Molecules of HIV
Make Oddmusic!
Make oddmusic!

Indian food in Britain

A radio article (about the first indian restaurant in the UK, opened in 1810) reminded me of the old chestnut about how "indian food" in the UK is nothing like food eaten in India or in Bangladesh.

It's quite an old mantra. Chicken tikka masala (the most popular dish in the UK, and fast spreading throughout the world) was invented by Bangladeshi chefs (in the 1960s, according to Wikipedia) specifically to cater to the tastes of British diners. Madhur Jaffrey once wrote quite vehemently against the balti, saying that "balti" meant "bucket" and just didn't exist as a dish. (She's changed her mind, apparently, since she now not only sells Madhur Jaffrey Balti Sauce, but also Madhur Jaffrey Balti Dishes.)

The onion bhaji, too, has an unknown provenance. "Bhaji" refers a type of curry made with vegetables, so the reason that in Britain we have traditionally used it to mean a deep-fried onion snack is completely mysterious. (Some kind of clerical error?) A more appropriate indian term would be to call them onion pakora. Although, having said that, indians don't typically make onion pakora - they prefer to use other vegetables such as aubergine.

Other dishes have just been slowly modified. The name "vindaloo" refers to wine and garlic ("Vinho de Alho"), but its firm place in Britain's cultural fabric is as one of the hottest dishes you can order. Even hotter is the "phaal", and although I haven't found much evidence about this I expect it was simply invented for to cater to the chilli-bravado that you often get when a group of blokes go to an indian restuarant.

Anyway. Far more interesting than being smug about our knowledge of what's indian and what's not, would be to find out where, when and how these new cultural traditions arose in Britain. Are there any books or research papers about the subject? Do we know exactly how curry came to be associated with rice (since indians typically have theirs with bread)? Are there any clues about the mysterious onion bhaji?

Thursday 29th September 2005 | food | Permalink
Name: BCM
Email: butter_chickenmasala art yahoo dort com
Date: Sunday 19th February 2006 00:46
If its the same deep fried onion snack we are talking about, then there's not much mystery around onion bhaji. Its a spelling error.

`Bhaji', as you have correctly pointed out, is a pan-Indian term for a simple vegetable curry. The deep-fried onion snack in question is `bajji' and comes from the Southern state of Karnataka. Its very popular in the road-side eateries and snack-shops of Bangalore and Mangalore, and a favored accompaniment to booze.

Bajji is the Kannada equivalent of the North-Indian `pakora' (although in a different context, the word can apply to a mashed vegetable - like a `bharta').

The onion bajji, typically consists of diced onion mixed with chickpea flour and spices and deep fried. There is also a North Indian onion pakora but that's a different beast - its usually whole onions stuffed with a spciy masala, dipped in chickpea batter and deep-fried.
Name: Dan
Website: http://www.mcld.co.uk/
Date: Sunday 19th February 2006 12:22
That's excellent! Thanks for clearing up the mystery!

My information about onion bhaji came from a television programme which attempted to trace its origins, but got no further than talking to a lot of pakora sellers (in Mumbai, I think) who seemed mystified by the idea of a pakora made of chopped onion.
Name: Kishore Dattani
Email: kdattani art amnesty dort org
Date: Wednesday 4th October 2006 16:49
In Gujrat Karnatakan Bajji then became Bhajia. Bhajia's can have various fillings but onion bhajia, potatato bhajia and chilli bhajia are very ppular.
Name: Sleeper
Date: Saturday 17th October 2009 20:14
Curry is eaten with rice in southern india.
It is eaten with flatbread in northern india.
Name: Pradip Neupane
Website: http://www.pradipneupane.com
Email: dobatoma art gmail dort com
Date: Monday 12th April 2010 09:44
Bread with curry is mainly eaten in Indian state of Punjab and in Pakistan. Even in North Indian state like Utthar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengol, Sikkim people eat curry mainly with rice,not bread. In Nepal, bread is hardly used with curry, they eat rice with currry. In South India rice is the most favourate with curry. The reason for confusion of curry mainly eaten with Bread by Indian in UK is becasue UK has a big population of Indian with Punjabi origin and even mostly Pakistanis in UK are Punjabis and as I said Curry and bread(roti,naan,chapati) is Punjabi's way of eating.

Add your comments:

I am a:
Everything is optional - and email addresses will be marmalised to protect you
Creative Commons License
Dan's blog articles may be re-used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 License. Click the link to see what that means...