The great British public love a good curry, so much so that chicken tikka masala was Britain’s favourite dish in 2011. But, in reality, how authentic is our much loved adoptive cuisine? Amandeep Turna unveils the curry culture clash she’s experienced since moving to Cardiff.
Before coming to University I never would have thought that curry could be a subjective topic… Oh how wrong I was. Arriving in Cardiff last year, I wasn’t shocked by how little others knew about the Indian cuisine, but by the miniscule amount which I appeared to know about it. Coming from an Indian background, I’m used to eating Indian food three or four times a week. However, once I was asked by my housemates which curry was my favourite and my answer of ‘chicken’ appeared to be quite lacking, questions around my heritage began to arise.
Having lived in a multi-cultural area all my life, I’m used to everyone possessing a general understanding of my cultural background. This is why I was so astonished by the widespread lack of knowledge surrounding different cultures within this country. The difference between the British version and the traditional version of curry is so vast, that I often wonder how menus filled with Madras, Kormas and Vindaloos even came into existence. A little research unveiled that many traditional dishes were given a British twist during the British Raj in the 19th century. In the same way as almost everything else that the West get their hands on, true culture seems to have become lost along the way, and instead replaced with a fake version of Indian cuisine which everyone assumes is the real deal.
Although I am not much of a traditionalist myself, I do my best to keep connected to my roots. Food is such a large part of Indian culture, and this hasn’t changed in the flight over to England. Family events are centred on an abundance of food, and one of the strictest rules in our household is that dinner time is family time. Even now, my fifteen year old brother and I are expected to make sure that we are downstairs and helping out in the kitchen from 6 o’ clock onwards, so that we can sit down and eat a meal together.
After spending the first semester shattering everyone’s illusions of curry, I decided it would be easier to just make a big batch of the stuff for my puzzled flatmates. We piled around twenty people in our six person kitchen, and gave them a true taste of India. Despite never having made chicken curry from scratch before, I managed to not only avoid poisoning anyone, but actually give them a taste of the real Indian food I eat at home. Everyone commented on how different it was, and I think that’s partly due to the overload of spices in British curries these days, they’re meant to be simple and scrumptious (hopefully something that I managed to pull off.)
Simplicity is what makes Indian food taste as good as it does. Having tried a few British curries just to see what all the fuss was about, I found that they have a very thick texture, and the sauce was incredibly rich. The flavours were good, but at times overpowering. In comparison, although curries at home have the same amount of flavour (if not more), they manage to balance the spices more evenly. Indian curries are also much simpler in terms of the ingredients used. Water and time are the only factors required to thicken a curry, compared to the heaps of cornflour and yoghurt added to British curries in order to condense them. Subsequently, it seems that in an attempt to fit in, the British curry tries too hard. Time and care seem to have become lost in the process, essentially causing traditional curry to have morphed into a new type of fast food.