Like the British, I love a good curry. And, while in London, I witnessed and even experienced first-hand, the British curry craze. This left me with a respect for and curiosity about this saucy cuisine.
Like a Starbucks on Every Corner
In London, Indian restaurants touting their “famous curries” are as common, or even more so, as Starbucks in the United States. Late at night, I enjoyed watching these little Indian cafes fill with locals, and even tourists, dying for a fix of their favorite aromatic dish – and I do me aromatic. In some areas of London, the distinct curry smell hangs over several blocks, nearly as thick as a London fog. Ok, maybe that’s exaggerating a little, but the smell was still very strong, so strong I could smell it on my clothes and hair after leaving the area.
Although not indigenous to England, curry has been described as England’s favorite dish, nearly replacing such notable British dishes like bangers and mash and fish and chips in notoriety. It may be because traditional British food is quite bland. With the introduction of curry, the British finally had something they rarely experienced in their food – flavor, and a lot of it.
To many in Britain, curry is more than food, it is an experience – one that often occurs late at night when friends come together for a bit of filling food after a few rounds of beer. In fact, the British go out for curry just like Americans go out for pizza. One study published nearly a decade ago suggested that the British may even be addicted to curry, because the spices in curry itself may be addictive by nature. This may explain why the British keep coming back for more of this potent dish.
Difference Between British and Indian Curry
British curry is slightly different from curry in India/Asia, where the dish originated. The word curry is generally thought to have come from the Indian word kari, which means sauce. Indian curry is often thought of as the traditional curry, with a base of onions, garlic, and ginger. Spices are then added to the base to make a thicker stock or sauce, followed by the addition of other key ingredients, like chicken, prawns, and/or vegetables. The combination of spices and key ingredients actually give each curry dish its specific name, such as chicken madras (madras sauce with chicken).
British curry is more of the anglo or trendy version of Indian curry. It uses many of the same spices, like coriander, cumin, turmeric, and, of course, curry powder. However, the British like to experiment with their curries and seem to be more daring, rather than traditional, with their ingredients, such as adding pineapple or tomatoes to a dish. More recently in Britain, curry has become a broad term used describe almost any spicy, sauce-based dish prepared in an Indian or Asian style. Some British even use the term so broadly as to describe a post-pub or late-night snack, as if to say, “we’re going out for curry”, while really meaning “we’re going out to grab a bite to eat.”
An Acquired Taste
If you’ve never had curry, it can take some time to get use to. Although both Indian and British curries can range from mild to flaming, it is safe to say that the spices used in curry have distinct, strong flavors and may be overpowering for weak palates. I didn’t care for curry at first – from an Indian restaurant in the United States. However, a sampling of British curry quickly changed my mind and now has turned me on to many other types of curries, especially Thai curries.
If you’re hesitant about trying curry for the first time, you may want to try an Asian or Thai curry to start. In my experience, these are more like traditional stir-fry dishes, although with thicker sauces. As an alternative, try making your own British curry at home using a simple recipes taken straight from the source – Britain. By making your own, you can customize your ingredients and add more or less of certain spices to suit your liking.
And, if you’re still not daring enough to try one of Britain’s favorite dishes, you can always try a more traditional British dish – bubble and squeak anyone?