Pat Chapman's Curry Club
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Popular Questions

These questions give answers to such topics as the origins of curry, its language, and some statistics. All the answers are copyright © Pat Chapman. Journalists, researchers, students, professionals and others who may wish to use my work, must obtain permission from Pat Chapman, and if granted, they must credit The Curry Club, Pat Chapman and my publications.

If you have a specific question which is not answered below, please contact me.

If it is a Question & Answer (which will be useful on this page), I will, as well as supplying the answer, add it and credit you with the question. Before you start scrolling (further down), here are four frequently asked questions, and their answers.


Q. How Can I Find Out Where The Best Indian Restaurants Are

They are in The Cobra Good Curry Guide


Q. Which Restaurants Are The Cobra Good Curry Guide Award Winners

They're in The Cobra Good Curry Guide


Q. When Is The Next Edition Of The Cobra Good Curry Guide Coming Out

The new edition is the Cobra Good Curry Guide 2010.


Q. Where Can I Find A List Of All UK Curry Restaurants And Manufacturers

In the out-of-print Cobra Curryholics’ Directory 2001. We have a few backnumbers of it in stock. Please order from our Online Shop.


Definitions and Statistics


Q1. What Is Meant By Indian Restaurant, Asian and Curry

  1. 'Indian' in the British restaurant sector is used generically and includes Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Nepalese, and Sri Lankan food. This group of countries is also referred to as the subcontinent.
  2. 'Asian' is used in the UK to mean all those whose roots are originally from the subcontinent, and excludes China, Indochina, Japan, and Thailand. In the US the reverse is the situation.
  3. 'Curry' has come to mean the food of the subcontinent.
  4. 'Curry House'. Coloquial term for a local curry restaurant. Most such restaurants in the UK (some 85% or 7,200) are Bangladeshi owned, though as stated above, for historical reasons most are still referred to as 'Indian'.


Q2. Tell Me More About The Word 'Curry'

Britain left many legacies in the subcontinent . One was the word curry. By definition, a mixture of spices (masala) thoroughly cooked with main ingredients, such as meat, poultry, fish or vegetables, creating a thick or thin gravy, is curry.

A rather more patronising version of this definition appears at the height of the Raj in Hobson Jobson (an Anglo Indian glossary published in India in 1882): "Indian food consists of some cereal. In the North this is flour, baked into unleavened cakes, elsewhere it is rice grain, boiled in water. Such food, having little taste, some small quantity of a much more savoury preparation is added as a relish. Curry consists of meat, fish, fruit or vegetables cooked with a quality of bruised spice and turmeric, called masala. A little of this gives a flavour to a large mess of rice."

The food of the subcontinent has developed over thousands of years. With such a diverse racial background, it is not surprising that the cuisine varies from state to state and region to region. Some of the distinctions are subtle when measured from town to town, but the differences from the northern Himalayas to southern Indian rice fields, and from the rugged mountains of western Pakistan to lush flat tropical Bangladesh in the east, are as vast as the land mass itself. This make possible an infinite number of curries. This diversity spreads into the derivation of the word itself.

'Curry' has no direct translation into any of the sub-continent? fifteen or so languages. There is no argument that the word was coined centuries ago by the British in India. But there is argument about the use of the word in India. Some Indians dislike the word, feeling it demeans their cuisine. Though they all use the word, they prefer to use individual words to describe each dish, such as Rhogan Josh Gosht, Mirchwangan Korma and Murgh Makhani. Like it or not, curry is a wonderful word. It is the only food word to describe a single dish, a meal, and the cooking of the entire subcontinent and beyond.

Possible contenders for the origin of the word curry are: Karhi, Kadhi or Kudhi. ? Gujarati soup-like, sour and slightly sweet dish, with its various spellings has been a Gujarati favourite for nearly 1000 years. We know that, because a recipe for yoghurt beaten with gram flour, made golden with turmeric and asafoetida appears in early writings. Today? Karhi contains dumplings made from besan (gram flour). This dish would have been eaten by the first English traders to arrive in India in 1608 (see below). The most likely contender for the derivation.

Kari, Kuri or Turkuri. Kari in Tamil means pepper, and writings from c300AD tell that meat cooked with pepper was called Thallikari or just Kari. Later this evolved into a spicy stew with turmeric, coconut, black urid lentils, dry red chillies, which is found in southern India to this day under the same name, Kari or Kuri or Turkuri. A similar dish is also called Karikai, or Kurikai. This is the derivation given in the Oxford Dictionary.

Karahi or Karai or Kadahi, etc. The ubiquitous wok-like cooking pot used all over India. Quite a strong case as the derivation, but no proof.

Kari Phulia or Kurri Patta or Kari Phulia. Bursunga (Bengali) or Curry. A soft, pale green, leaf (growing up to 4 cm in length) used for flavouring. Despite its name, the leaf has a lemony fragrance, and no hint of ?urry? This is because it is related to the lemon family. Sometimes misnamed Neem leaf (a different species), curry leaf is widely used in southern Indian dishes such as Kari, Rasam, Sambar, Masala Dosa and Lemon Rice, while ground curry leaf is used in many commercial curry powder blends. Interesting, but not a contender for the derivation

Karil. Goan Canarese word meaning spicy food) referred to in writings* as early as 1512 and 1563. The word remains as the Portuguese word for curry to this day. (*Correa, Gaspaar Lendas, 1512 and Garcia, Colloquis, 1563). Coincidental similarity, but not likely to be the derivation because the English had no contact with Goa until the 17th century.

Koresh. An aromatic Iranian stew, which exists today but whose roots go back to the days of the great Persian empire, which was at its height over 2,500 years ago. The Greek Alexander the Great conquered the Persians in 331 B.C and into India in 326 B.C. Persian cuisine was well established by that time. Over the centuriers, many invaders entered India via Persia, including the Moghuls, who had Persian origins and spoke Persian in their court. There is no evidence that dish was eaten by them, nor that it has roots to the Moghul favourite, Korma dishes.

Korma, Koorma, Kurma. In India, Korma refers to a slow-cooking style, where only ghee or oil (and no water) is used in the initial cooking with garlic, ginger and onion, to which lamb marinated in youghurt is added. Korma had been around for centuries before the Moghuls took India in the 15th century, but it was perfected by them to produce a highly aromatic dish. The early English ambassadors to India occasionally ate at the Moghul courts, and would have certainly eaten this dish. A coincidence of alliteration, but not a derviation.

Lekkerie. The Dutch, who were in India by the late 17th century have their own derivation. They say it was used in their Indonesian curries, and that it derived from the word Lekker meaning delicious, or in colloquial Dutch, Lekkerie. Another coincidence, ruled out by the timings of Dutch arrival into India.

Curing. An ancient process whereby meat and fish are dried by smoking or salting, sometimes using spices, to prevent it going rancid, not always successfully. Unsavoury tasting meat was, it is claimed, then cooked in spices to mask the bad flavours, hence curried. Given that few English recipes used spices, right up to the last few decades, even if this rumour was substantiated, this derivation is the least probable.

Conclusion. How does a new word enter the dictionary? In fact it is a rare occurrance. Let us speculale about curry. Captain William Hawkins was the first English mariner to arrive in India officially to seek trading rights. He landed in Surat, Gujarat in 1608 and stayed for three years. He was followed by Sir Thomas Roe, and the first trading licence was issued by the Moghul emperor in 1618, allowing the building of a trading post at Surat. The Oxford English Dictionary attributes the first use of the word the word 'curry' to 1628, citing Tamil Kari as its derivation. So we know that in a period of 20 years, the word curry had been coined. Undoubtedly Hawkins and his successors ate Gujarati food. They would have had no other choice. No doubt their first experience led to further tastings, as it does. They would ask of their host or cook what is this or that dish called, and one was doubtless Karhi (Kadhi). Quite why that dish rather than numerous others became the generic word curry is one of the mysteries and delights of etymology. But could this speculation not apply to Tamil Kari? Since it was not until 1640 (and a different emperor) that a trading post was established in Tamil Nadu at Madras, some 1,000 miles from Surat, (a journey made by few) and since Tamil food played no part in Gujarat, (indeed neither Gujarati nor Tamil food was cooked at the Moghul courts) it is inconceivable that Tamil Kari would have been eaten by those English adventurers by 1628. The 12 years difference between 1628 and 1640 may seem insignificant, but in those days, it was a long time. It seems far more probable that the Gujarati dish Karhi (Kadhi) was the derivation of the word curry. We may never know, but one thing is for sure, no food tastes better than curry, and no word does a better job to describe any food.

Copyright © Pat Chapman


Q3. Why Has Curry Become So Popular In The UK

As recently as post WW2 there was no dining-out tradition for the British masses. The 1950s requirement for immigrant labour from the West Indies and the subcontinent brought in new culture. The latter brought their foodstuffs with them,and to cut a long story short opened curry restaurants in affordable (back street) premises. They were smart (for those days) offering elegance with waiters in dinner jackets, crisp linen, silver cutlery, and white plates and red flock wallpaper. The diners didn't know it but this style was a replication of the Raj, and it was inexpensive. For a nation not even used to eating garlic, curry was tasty, new and amazing, and above all, affordable. Furthermore, curry (or rather the spices) are mildly addictive. The British Nation was hooked.!!!


Q4. How Many Curry Restaurants Are There And Who Runs Them

There were six 'Indian' restaurants in the whole of Britain in 1938 (three in London, and one each in Oxford, Cambridge and Manchester). In 200 there are 8,500. 85% are Bangladeshi-owned (over 7,000) and with mainly Bangladeshi personnel. They have an annual market turnover of £2.5bn (£2,500,000,000) representing 10% of all restaurant business in UK. There is direct employment at the curry restaurant of over 100,000 personnel. with an indirect additional employment in supply and related industries for a further 50,000 plus.


Q5. What About Curry At The Retailer

A further market for Indian food has rapidly developed in just two decades at retail food stores (supermarkets). In 1982 the market was just £2m, sales at that time consisting mainly of curry powder and mango chutney. For decades prior to this, that market had been stable with minimal signs of growth. By 2002 the market had grown to a massive £600 million, of which 80% was curry ready meals.


Q6. Are Most UK Curry Restaurants Bangladeshi, And What Does This Mean

Bangladesh is located on either side of 90?E in longitude (88? to 93?) which puts it a quarter-world, or 5,400 miles, from Greenwich. It lies at either side of the Tropic of Cancer at 23?N in latitude (20?to 26? which bestows upon it a sub-tropical climate. It shares over 600 miles of its borders with India and 50 miles with Burma (Myanmar) at the forested east. By and large most of Bangladesh’s 115 million population are Moslem (87%), though there are Hindus (12%) and less than 1% are Christians and Bhuddist.

Bangladesh is a new country with an ancient curry cooking tradition, which traces its roots back more than 2500 years. For much of that time, as we shall see, it was that part of India known as Bengal. Over the centuries, it became such a Moslem stronghold, that eventually, Bengal itself became two states with quite separate identities. But before long, one of them became Bangladesh. Her people, her culture, even her language were different - her cuisine unique.

Most modern British curry house, some 85%, are Bangladeshi-run. They offer their diners a large and comprehensive range of curries, many of which are of Indian origin. You’ll find a number of ‘restaurant favourites’ such as Samosas, Onion Bhajia, Kebabs, Chicken Tikka and its popular derivative Chicken Tikka Masala curry. Other famous curries included Korma, Bhoona, Pasanda, Jhal Frezi, Biriani and Pullao. The have developed a frapid production method for serving their food. See Q6. Formula Curres. However, there are two types of Bangladeshi cooking.

The authentic curries and accompaniments of Bangladesh have much in common with those of Bengal, and indeed the whole of India, the spicing is distinctive and subtle. Beef is the prevalent meat, and duck is popular. Tropical fish and exotic vegetables (now available in the UK) form an indispensable part of the Bengali/Bangladeshi diet. They use mustard and poppy seed extensively. Their important five spice mixture, Panch Phoran in Bengal, Panch Foran or Porch Foron in Bangladesh, has differences as subtle as their spelling. For example, in Calcutta, Bengal’s capital, it will include white cummin, fennel, fenugreek, mustard or celery seed and wild onion. In Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital, celery seed would not be used, but black cummin and aniseed would replace wild onion and fennel. Bangladeshi Garam Masala will, like as not, contain chilli. Surprisingly perhaps, Bangladeshis adore the chilli, and it appears in many forms, in many recipes, not so as to swamp the delicacy of the spicing - rather to punctuate it. Some curries may use as little as three of four spices, and the effect is supreme. Coriander, turmeric and cassia , for example, are all that is needed to produce the Bangladeshi version of that old favourite, Bhoona, whilst their versions of Korma are creamy and dreamy and totally mouthwatering. Yet the results are neither tame or bland. Bangladesh has a unique range of curry cooking techniques such as Charchuri, Dalna, Jal, Kalia, Khatta, Niramish, Rezala, Shukti and Tok. Nowhere else on the subcontinent has such an array of tastes - sour, bitter, sweet, hot, savoury, mild, pungent and fragrant... Bangladeshis adore all of these tastes, which they achieve by using tamarind and sour fruits, bitter vegetables, molasses, chillies and uniquely subtle blends of spices. The Bangladeshi repertoire of textures is equally expansive. Crispy fritters and crunchy grilled items take their place alongside watery (but flavourful) soups. Creamy curries, contrast with dry stir-fries, fluffy rices, with chewy breads. And you will not find vegetables cooked better anywhere. Uniquely Bangladeshis eat raw and cold curries (bhoortas) and ingredients not used widely in Indian cuisine are the norm in that of Bangladesh. Sometimes cooked with nothing more than garlic with, a sprinkling of whole spice seeds and chilli, these recipes achieve great culinary heights, and are ideal for the health-conscious cook.

Source: Pat Chapman’s Bangladeshi Restaurant Cookbook.


Q7. I’d Like More Curry Statistics

From the introduction to Pat Chapman’s Good Curry (Restaurant) Guide, 2001. Both Taylor Nelson and Mintel indicate that growth in the Indian restaurant sector is slowing down. We spent several weeks completely updating our database, and it reveals that there are somewhat fewer curry restaurants than we had previously believed, the difference largely being explained by name changes, duplication and rather more closures than we had been notified about. We said last time that the growth of new openings in the two years between mid-1998 and mid-2000, was 3%, or 300 restaurants. The number of new openings has continued during the last year at a slightly slower rate. We know of 125 openings nationwide, but we have heard of at least 300 closures. The net result, we believe, is 8,116 Indian restaurants operating in the UK in August 2000.

According to Mintel, the revenue at the Indian restaurant comes third at £1.66bn (excluding takeaway revenues) in 1997, after pub catering (£5.1bn), and non-ethnic restaurants (£6bn). But Mintel warn that over the period 1996 to 2000, revenue at the Indian restaurant has increased only by 13%, whereas several other sectors (including in-store restaurants, pizza and pasta, fish and chips, fried chicken, roadside food, and other fast food), currently with lower turnovers than the Indian sector, are showing average revenue growths of over 20% in the same period. Only the Chinese sector shows lower growth at 8% (£1.1bn in 1999). Thai food during the same period grew from £141m to £242m – a massive 38%.

But are restaurants making profits? Plimsoll Portfolio Analysts find 43% of restaurants increased their borrowings while 25% made a loss as a result of ‘competitive pressures’. Half of these increased their levels of debt. Of those making profits, 39% increased their total asset value, though 75% of these borrowed to do so. The entire restaurant sector grew by 5.6% during 1997. 20% increased sales. Average industry margins were just 2.8%, though 20% made in excess of 10% pretax profit. Market Power’s report on themed restaurants, tells us that according to government figures, there will be a 20% decrease in the number of 25 to 34 year-olds visiting these in the coming years. Themed restaurants have boomed from 250 in 1992 to double in 1999 and account for a £240m spend. Average spent there is £5-10 for lunch and £20-30 for dinner. Most are in the London area.

Indian meals are still very much the preserve of the younger consumer, remaining just about stable from last year – 24% are eaten by people aged between 16 to 24, 36% by those between 25 to 34, and 23% are eaten by 35 to 44 year-olds. An interesting comparison appears with the over-65s. Curry is still not a big thing in this age group. Only 6% consume it, although this figure has increased by 4% since 1995, whereas a total of 18% eat out at other (non-ethnic) restaurants. Of curry diners, 57% are male and 43% are female. On premises the split was 61%:39% respectively, while in takeaways and home deliveries it was 54%:46%. In the Curry Club, 65% of members are male, and of the restaurant reports we receive the percentage from males is around 75%, many of whom, it seems, are teachers, medics or policemen – all used to filling out paperwork! In socioeconomic terms, A B consumers accounted for 21% of the total curry market, c1 31%, c2 28% and de 18%. In the takeaway/delivery sector, it was 19%, 29%, 31% and 21% respectively. Despite media coverage saying the Indian restaurant is in decline, our figures remain virtually unchanged from last year. Over 2.5 million diners use the Indian restaurant each week. The average number of seats is 53. With an average bill of between £12-15, the total spend is now estimated at over £2bn. Old habits die hard, with 92% of curry house users preferring evenings. Saturday night accounts for 25% of all trade, Friday 18% and Thursday 12%. Sunday lunch only accounts for 2%. Indeed, with the curry house lunch trade amounting to only 9%, more restaurants have decided not to open at lunch times.

And what did these people order? Predictably, chicken remains the most popular ingredient, rising 1% to 66% in 1998 (from 52.5% in 1991 and 60% in 1995). Bad press or no, demand for meat at the curry house is constant at 22%, with lamb accounting for 10%, beef for 9% and venison and mutton nearly 4%. (Pork and veal rarely appear.) Fish and prawn has risen, despite high prices due to shortages, to 5% (up 1%) while vegetables account for just 7% (down 1%). According to Gallup (mid-1997), in that year there was a tiny gain of vegetarians to 5.4% of the population. Until then, the national figure for vegetarians had been around 5% for some years. Gallup point out that a further 14.3% of the population avoid red meat – the reasons given are taste 24%, BSE 22% and moral grounds 8%. Cost plays a factor, too. Called demi-vegetarians, many people still eat poultry and fish. This figure has hardly changed, either, over the years. At the curry house, Chicken Tikka Masala remains the number one ordered dish (16%), with Chicken Korma next (8%) and Jalfrezi, Masala, Rhogan, Karahi and Tikka/Tandoori all close behind at around 6%.

Main sources: Taylor Nelson AGB. Subsidiary information: Mintel, Gallup, Market Power, Plimsoll Portfolio Analysis, Tandoori Magazine Restaurateurs survey and Curry Club User Survey.


Q8. Are The Curries At The UK Curry Restaurants Authentic

It's a question which does concern some people. The answer applies to every restaurant sector, not just 'Indian' Firstly, what is 'authentic'? Are we referring to home cooking? Presumably, since the restaurant vogue and cookery book plethora did not exist other than the very rich pre 1960, yes we are. But not all home cooks are good cooks, so are we referring to home cooking or restaurant cooking? All restaurants make a number of preparations or applies certain methods which one simply would not do at home. French, Chinese. Thai, TexMex, English (the carvery steams the beef before flashing it in a hot oven so it appears roasted) or Indian. It's a matter of scale. No home I know cooks for 100 diners a day.

In our sector, I call it Formula Curries. This is my definition as appears in my Good Curry Guide glossary: Many of our 'Indian' restaurants operate to a formula which was pioneered in the late 1940s. In those early restaurants, a way had to be found to deliver a variety of curries, without an unreasonable delay, from order to table. Since all authentic Indian recipes require hours of cooking in individual pots, there was no guarantee that they would even be ordered.So cubed meat, chicken or potatoes, dhal and some vegetables were lightly curried and chilled, and a large pot of thick curry gravy, a kind of master stock, was brewed to medium-heat strength. To this day, portion by portion,on demand, these ingredients are reheated by pan-frying them with further spices and flavourings. At its simplest, a Medium Chicken Curry, that benchmark of middle ground, is still on many menus, though sometimes disguised as Masala, and requires no more than a reheat of some gravy with some chicken. For instance, take a typical mixed order for a couple at a table for two. She wants Chicken Korma (fry a little turmeric, coriander and cumin, add six pieces of chicken, add a ladleful of curry gravy, plenty of creamed coconut, almonds maybe and a little cream – result, the additions make it mild and creamy-golden in colour), and with it she'll have Vegetable Dhansak (fry some cumin seeds, dry methi leaves, chopped onions, a little sugar, tomato, red and green capsicum with the gravy, add dhal and some cooked veg – result, colourful, and still medium-strength). He wants Meat Korma (as for the chicken, using meat), and he wants Prawn Vindaloo (fry spices and chilli powder, add the gravy which at once goes red and piquant, then cooked peeled prawns, fresh tomato and potato, simmer and serve). Maybe they'll also take a Sag Paneer (fry cummin, some thawed creamed spinach and premade crumbled paneer together, add fresh coriander – done). One cook can knock all these up, simultaneously, in five pans, within minutes. Rice is precooked, breads and tandoori items made to order by a different specialist. And, hey presto, your order, sir and madam! Thus the menu can be very long, with an almost unlimited variety of dishes, sometimes numbered, sometimes heat-graded, mild, medium and hot, hotter, hottest, and any dish is available in meat, poultry, prawn, king prawn, and most vegetables, too. That's the formula, and its perpetrator is the standard curry house. Just because this is not authentic does not make it bad. It can be, and variously is, done well.

The Good Curry Guide is full of many such restaurants, about which we say "standard curry house, doing the formula well."


Q9. Is Curry The Nation's Favourite Dish

The nation seem to believe it and that suits me. However, it isn't really true. The rumour all started from a survey conducted in 1999 by an indigestion company, Bi-so-dol. They asked what gave people indigestion, or put another way, they asked what people ate. One box was about takeway food. In this sector, the remarkable discovery was that curry came first (18%), fish and chips, that very British institution second (16%) and pizza third.

When the media got hold of those those statistics, they did a typical edit (omitting the takeaway bit) and it became written in stone that curry is Britain's favourite dish.

Our own surveys show that Chicken Tikka Masala comes out as the most ordered dish at the curry house, dish with 16% of all diners eating it. But it took a quantum leap forward in the 2002 elections, when the foreign minister of the time, Robin Cook, claimed that CTM was the nation's favourite dish. He was undoubtedly attempting to curry favour with the Asian community, probably unsuccesfully because they don't eat CTM.

But the nation is now convinced that CTM is their favourite, and who are we to disagree?


Q10. What Are The Nation's Favourite Curries

Main course dishes ordered. Statistics from the current Good Curry Guide. Chicken Tikka Masala remains the number one ordered dish (16%). Chicken Korma next (8%). Jalfrezi, Karahi dishes, Masala dishes, Rhogan Josh and Tikka/Tandoori dishes are all close behind at around 6%. Balti, Bhuna, Dhansak, and Madras come next at 5% or less. Vindaloo and Phal are below 1%.

Here Is More Detail From The Current Good Curry Guide

Predictably, chicken remains the most popular ingredient, rising 1% to 66% in 1998 (from 52.5% in 1991 and 60% in 1995). Bad press or no, demand for meat at the curry house is constant at 22%, with lamb accounting for 10%, beef for 9% and venison and mutton nearly 4%. (Pork and veal rarely appear). Fish and prawn has risen, despite high prices due to shortages, to 5% (up 1%) while vegetables account for just 7% (down 1%). According to Gallup (mid-1997), in that year there was a tiny gain of vegetarians to 5.4% of the population. Until then, the national figure for vegetarians had been around 5% for some years. Gallup point out that a further 14.3% of the population avoid red meat ?the reasons given are taste 24%, BSE 22% and moral grounds 8%. Cost plays a factor, too. Called demi-vegetarians, many people still eat poultry and fish. This figure has hardly changed, either, over the years. At the curry house, Chicken Tikka Masala remains the number one ordered dish (16%), with Chicken Korma next (8%) and Jalfrezi, Masala, Rhogan, Karahi and Tikka/Tandoori all close behind at around 6%.


Q11. What Is Tandoori And Tikka

Tandoori is ancient style of charcoal-cooking which with its offspring Tikka, meaning 'little piece' originated centuries ago in the North West Frontier, that rugged inhospitable area now well inside Pakistan. It gets its name from the cylindrical clay oven, the tandoor, with its opening at the top, fired with charcoal in its base. The oven's neck narrows down to create a venturi effect, whereby the airflow speeds up as it exits the oven, and this creates a high temperature (c400?C) and fast cooking. The tandoor is unique to the subcontinent. It owes its existence to the ancient Egyptians, who invented bread-making in their oven called the tonir. This clay oven was on its side, tortoise-shape, with a long narrow, horizontal neck. It found its way into ancient Persian two millenia ago,where it was called the tanoor, and Nane Lavash bread and Tikkeh, spicy meat on a skewer were cooked in it. Exactly when the oven migrated to Pakistan is unclear. Invading Arabs probably brought the technique to the North West Frontier hundreds of years ago. What is certain is that it turned vertical, became the tandoor and Naan bread and Tikka were cooked in it centuries ago. Originally the ingredients were hunted game birds or meat, now it? chicken and lamb. When in residence at their Lahore palace, the Moghuls enjoyed the fruits of the tandoor, and refined tandoori into the flavours we know today. The secret lies in the combination of spices, herbs and yoghurt which penetrates and tenderises the meat during marination. The longer the marination, the better the penetration, and thus the taste. The tandoor itself adds its own smoky flavour to the food as it is cooked. Incidentally, the tonir also migrated westwards into the Ottoman empire, where the bread is known as Pitta. Later still variations of the oven reached Italy, and today who has not seen the Pizza oven.

Despite the astonishingly tasty food that the tandoor produced, it nearly became extinct and it remained an unintentionally well-kept secret until relatively recently. It was not a household item and pre 1947, the few tandoori restaurants that existed were to be found only in Pakistan? larger cities. It was not until the upheavel of partition in 1947 that a Pakistani Tandoor restaurateur, anticipating religious persecution because he was a hindu in a moslem country, moved his restaurant from Lahore to Delhi, complete with his tandoori ovens, in 1948.

There have been many restaurants wishing to claim to be Britain? first Tandoori restaurant. Piccadilly? Veeraswamy (founded 1926 and still going) had Tundoori Chicken on a 1933 menu, but the restaurant did not own such an oven until at least four decades later. In fact, the honour goes to London? Gaylord, who indesputible had two by 1965.

Having eventually reached Britain, it was not surprising that tandoori cooking spread rapidly during the 1970s to nearly every curry house in the land, and beyond. Being low in fat and served with salads and yoghurt dips, tandoori food is, unquestionably good for health, apart that tratrazine food colouring.


Q12. Is Chicken Tikka Masala An Authentic Dish

Question asked by Amanda Lita, Features writer, New York Times.

Chicken Tikka Masala, CTM, as it is known in the trade, has achieved cult status as Britain's most popular dish. Yet it is widely perceived to be a phoney – an invention of British chefs. It is a type of curry, of course; pinky-red, creamy and very tasty. One would be forgiven for thinking it's an age-old recipe; in fact it is just 20 years old. And, yes, remarkably, the concept was invented, not in India, but at the British Indian restaurant as recently as the 1980s.

Tikka and tandoori dishes had 'arrived' in Britain during the 1970s. They originated in Pakistan centuries ago. They are quite dry, being served without a gravy. Being low in fat and served with salads and yoghurt dips, tandoori food is, unquestionably good for health. But British chefs felt that the natural brown colour that resulted from the bake in the oven, required boosting. They added copious amounts of red and/or yellow tartrazine food colouring. The British public were duped into believing that this radio-active lurid red was the authentic thing. (Tartrazine colours are available in powder form, made from coal extract and are widely used in confectionary, soft drinks and other products. They can have health side effects, and contribute nothing to flavour. It is only now that the necessity to use Tartrazine is being seriously questioned.)

Back in the eighties, with tandoori and tikka dishes safely established for a decade, a curry house chef, somewhere, (identity and location unknown), realised that a bespoke gravy would exploit his already popular Chicken Tikka. It caught on at once, and swept so rapidly round the restaurant circuit, that within a couple of years it was a standard item at all curry houses. Almost certainly without knowing it, that ingenious chef had created the world? most popular curry.

The concept of CTM is simple: Immerse chicken breast chunks (or meat or fish) in a spicy marinade, then bake it in a special oven (the tandoor). Make a typical curry gravy to go with it, but colour it red, with ingredients such as tandoori or tikka spices, tomato paste, tomatoes themselves and red peppers, cream, sugar, ground almonds, and maybe mango chutney puree and/or creamed coconut. For good measure red tartrazine colouring to achieve a lurid red colour, despised by some, which contributes nothing to flavour.

Most curry houses serve it at prices ranging from £5. One top London restaurant, with a French name , La Porte des Indes, even offers CTM, which it renames 'Poullet Rouge' to its discerning diners at a hefty £14.90 per portion (10/2003).

Despite the belief that CTM is a pure invention, it has traditional roots. Murgh Makhani, Masalador, or Makhanwalla are variations on the same theme which have appeared in Indian households for centuries.. Chicken is marinated in spiced yoghurt, and are slow-cooked in a pot with ghee or butter, aromatic spices, ground nuts, tomatoes and cream. The resultant sauce is, of course, reddy-pink. In fact the only difference is that these dishes do not involve the tandoor, so have a quite different flavour from the curry house interpretation.

In two decades, CTM has not only become a world-class dish, it tops the bill as a sandwich filler, as a potato crisp flavourer, on Pizzas, as a spaghetti sauce, as a mayonnaise flavouring and in all manner of non-traditional guises. I would not be surprised if it one day appeared in chewing gum, or as a perfume fragrance!

Until a few years ago, it had never been heard of in the subcontinent, where tikka originated, let alone eaten. Now, however, in a ‘coals-to-Newcastle’ irony, it has been ‘exported’ to India and is to be found on the menus of the better restaurants in Bombay, Delhi and, and it is equally popular. Patak, Britain’s largest curry paste manufacturer have achieved notoriety exporting their Tikka paste to India.

Chicken Tikka Masala certainly has charisma, and maybe a little glamour too.


Q13. Does Balti Exist

A lot of people, Indians in particular, wish you to believe it does not. It is not helped by the fact that in Hindi, the word Balti means a cast iron slop pot or bucket. More significantly, it originated in Pakistan, no friend of India. It was not helped in Britain either, because it came to light in Birmingham, not in mighty London, where the national press is based.

These Are Facts

In the high mountains of north Pakistan, is the ancient state of Baltistan, (latitude 36?E, longitude 74?N). It is part of Pakistan’s Kashmir, and was known as the Northern Frontier Territories by the Raj. It has a mostly Moslem population of under 1 million and shares its borders with China (it was once on the Spice Route to China) and India’s Kashmir, These days, with Pakistan and India in a permanent state of war, the few roads connecting the two countries are permanently closed. Little may have been known about Balti food outside its indigenous area, had it not been for a small group of north Pakistanis from Mirpur, Kashmir and Skardu (Baltistan), who settled in east Birmingham in the 1960s. There, they opened small cafés in the back streets, serving curries made aromatic with Kashmiri Garam Masala, and herbal, with plentiful coriander, in two handled pots called the ‘karahi’ in India, but ‘balti pan’, to themselves. Any combination of ingredients is curried and served to the table still cooking, in the balti pan. Eating with no cutlery, using fingers and bread to scoop up the food in the right hand, is the norm to the community, but revelationary to Birmingham’s white population, who made Balti their own. In the 1990s, Balti spread rapidly all over the UK and beyond. The Balti found at the standard Bangladeshi curry house, however, owes its flavours more to Patak’s acidic Balti paste than to Mirpur, and unless it is cooked in its pan and served cutlery-free, it will (correctly) never convince the Brummy purist that it is anything other than hype.

For more information, obtain Pat Chapman’s Balti Curry Cookbook.


Q14. More About Balti

BBC-TV ran a series of television programmes called Balderdash and Piffle examining the derivation of British words with the intention of updating the Oxford English Dictionary, the definitive record of the English language. So popular is British curry that the in the first series, the producer chose ‘balti’ as a word to examine. The programme flatteringly observed:

The winter 1984 issue of the Curry Club’s Curry Magazine contains the first printed evidence the OED has for 'balti'. But where the term comes from (India, Pakistan — perhaps Baltistan) remains something of a mystery at present. The Curry Club say it first appeared in the Birmingham area in the early 80s. But is there any printed evidence for the term earlier, and can the origin be confirmed?’ The programme asked viewers: ‘Are you one of Britain's original curry kings or queens? If so, did you cook or serve Britain or the world's first balti — or do you know who did? Knocking around at the back of the kitchen drawer do you have an old takeaway menu with a balti on it from before 1984?’

Following transmission on BBC2, only one piece of written evidence surfaced which predated our own: an advert from a local paper, as the revised for the OED indicates:

'This ad has come to light from July 8th 1982:  "Heathan (Balsall Heath, Birmingham)  Specialists in kebab, tikah, balti meats, tandoori chicken and all kinds of curry".’

Re our own evidence, the OED have retained it.  Here it is in full: Curry Mag. Winter 1984, Edition 11, Restaurant Roundup page 29 col 1:    ‘Can anyone tell me what Balti is? As you peer through the two large windows, full of happy diners and catch the delicious smell exuding from the interior, you’ll find it impossible to pass the place. Some unusual dishes on the menu are Curried Quail, Balti chicken or meat. We found the food wholesome and satisfying’, from Mr.G.Loughlin, Formby.

We were as surprised as the OED that no printed evidence came from the 1970s. But all is not lost; maybe you, our curryholic readers can produce evidence. If you can please reply to us in Haslemere, address p4. Our first Guide balti reference was in the second (1986) edition when we mentioned the baltis at Adils (still in this Guide). Meanwhile here is the new OED definition:

'balti, n.2 Cookery. Also with capital initial.  Origin uncertain and disputed. The word was first used in connection with restaurants chiefly in the area of Birmingham, England, in the early 1980s. One source claims that that first Balti house opened in 1977, but no printed evidence for this has been found. It is unclear whether there is any antecedent in languages of northern India, Pakistan, or Kashmir; it is not recorded among the many borrowings from these languages in R. J. Baumgartner Eng. Lang. Pakistan (1993). It is widely suggested that the word is derived from the Hindi for pail or bucket referring to the small, two-handled pan used in balti houses (Urdu – karahi), or Punjabi, Hindi, Bengali – deep brass dish but as there is no evidence that the Hindi word was used for vessels of this kind, this is probably a folk etymology. It has also been suggested that the word has some connection with Baltistan. The cuisine is found throughout Pakistan and north-western India, but with the notable exception of Baltistan, which has a subsistence economy (although sharing of food from a communal pot, or bucket is a feature of Balti culture). The first balti houses may have been so named because of their simple, bring-and-share style, or because an early proprietor of such a restaurant was a Balti from Pakistani Kashmir. The predominant British pronunciation with back vowel is perh. after BALTIC a. and n.

© Oxford University Press 2006

If you have some evidence on this appeal, please email

For more information, obtain Pat Chapman’s Balti Curry Cookbook and The Cobra Good Curry Guide.


Q15. What is Red Food Colouring

Artificial food colours have become an emotive subject. India has always cooked with natural colours. Natural red is achieved using tomato, paprika or chilli. But these ingredients onl arrived in India after 1500AD. In Kashmir, a strange herb called marval (cock's comb) is used and cooking oil is coloured deep red using the bark-like alkanet root (ratin jot). Yellow derives from saffron and turmeric, green is achieved using spinach and green vegetables. None of these are heat-stable, so they change colour, becoming browner, when cooked, for example with authenic tandooris and tikkas as cooked in India.

The very bright red and orange food that we are accustomed to at the tandoori house, and coloured grains of rice are a British curry house restaurateur invention. It is achieved by using tartrazine food dyes, whose colours include red, yellow, orange, green, etc. Made from coal tar, they are proved to have ‘side-effects’ on certain people (particularly on about 1% of the nation's children) such as allergies, asthma attacks and hyperactivity. These dyes appear, of course, in numerous other factory produced foods, such as ready-meals, confectionery, sauces, bakery, etc. The food tastes no different, with or without them, but if you wish to have vibrant-coloured tandoori and rice dishes, purchase them in powdered form, and remember, they are extremely concentrated, so use just a tiny amount. We sometimes use beetroot powder, high grade (noble) paprika and annato powder to obtain natural colours, hough again these are not heat-stable.  (These are available on our on-line shop.)

In 2005 a new scare emerged concerning Sudan Red, a dye supposed to be used for dying leather and clothing. It may be carcinogenic. Certain unscrupulous third-world spice manufacturers added this dye to chilli powder. Though this took place in 1999, it seems that batches of this chilli powder were used by Cross and Blackwell in their Worcester sauce. This was sold on to food manufacturers, and appears in no less than 500 food products. Barts spices also used Sudan Red in some of their spices. When it eventually came to light in 2005 that Sudan Red was present in these products they were all withdrawn. An embarrasment for the manufacturers, but none-the-less the problem should have been identified before the products went into production.


Q16. Help. I’ve Made My Curry Too Hot. What Can I Do

If you have time, make a new mild gravy with no chilli at all. Add in your original extra hot gravy bit by bit. The overall result should work. Also or alternatively add potatoes and/or yoghurt, cream and other ingredients to mop up the heat.


Q17. Bombay Duck. Is It A Bird. Is It For Real

Question from Alan Bennett, Newcastle, UK. August 2003.

What is it and is it still banned?

Bombay Duck is a smallish fish which abounds in the rivers and estuarys around the Bombay docks, where it is known locally as Bommaloe Macchli or Machi. This was too hard for the British Raj to pronounce, so, to them it became Bombay Duck. After the fish is caught, it is topped, tailed and filleted, and then hung on cane frames to dry in Bombay’s fierce sun. Once dried it is in flat strips which are yellowish, tough and unpromising visually. We receive it in this dried form and it will keep indefinitely in a screw-top jar, out of the sun. It can be used in a curry, or pickled. More commonly, it is eaten as a crispy salty nibble with an aperetif, as a starter, or crumbled over your curry and rice as a garnish. To cook, deep-fry until golden and serve warm. Its strong fishy smell diminishes on cooking, but it is still an acquired taste.

Bombay Duck got caught up in a recent EC ban on all dried fish and shellfish. The reason was that some prawns had been found to contain bacteria (but not Bombay Duck). The ban went on for some years, but is now lifted. Asian stores are still a bit reluctant to stock it, believing the ban still to exist.

Source for purchasing (wholesale but will help). TRS, (Suterwalla), Southbridge Way, The Green, Southall, Middlesex. UB2 3AX t: 020 8571 3252


Q18. I Want A Tandoor. How Can I Get One

Question from 'shuffler' UK. Sept 2003.

Question: I'm trying to obtain information and pricing re buying and installing a tandoor oven for my own use domestically. I have heard there is such a tandoor oven for domestic users like myself, a certain stainless steel tandoor oven. Please could you send me any relevant information.

Answer: Nipoori Ovens (UK) Ltd, PO Box 2382, ROMFORD, ESSEX, RM2 5BP. 01708 724745. Make Steel tandoori ovens. Clay ovens are made by: Dowd Tandoori. 020 8904 4477. Large Professional Clay Tandoori ovens. Tandoori Clay Oven Co Ltd, 164a Dukes Road, LONDON, W3 0SL. 020 8896 2696 Pro & domestic charcoal & gas-fired tandoor ovens.


Q19. I Want To Open A Curry Restaurant. What Should I Do

Question: I'm thinking about setting up a Balti cafe/restaurant in Holland and I wondered if you had any thoughts on taking Balti cooking to the Dutch. I lived in London for many years, where I cooked many balti meals from your Balti Curry cook book - balti and Indian cooking became a real hobby of mine and now I'm thinking of making a hobby my job. I'd be very interested in hearing what you think of the idea of a Balti place in Amsterdam - to be honest I don't even know as yet whether the UK phenonomen has taken any hold over there, perhaps you know something about this?

Ruth van Cranenburgh, USA.

Answer. The above question is typical of the questions I get asked frequently about venturing into the restaurant business. Hobby to full time career is a big move. I know – I've done it with the Curry Club. But I don't have a restaurant so maybe I'm not the one to give advice. But here are some obvious thoughts: Financial considerations, right location, competition (why is yours better than theirs?), pleasing decor, correctly built kitchens, equipping, choosing and employing staff, health and safety and hygiene, etc etc. The menu must be right too, priced right (especially in our current recession), tempting dishes, and cooking seems to be almost the least important part of the job; but of course it is the most important aspect. If the food is poor, or delivered badly, you have no customers. And remember what you do for a hobby now and again, suddenly becomes a day-in day-out lunch and dinner necessity, big time.

Having said that, I've seen many new restaurants come onto the UK scene in the last two decades. Some fail. And some have gone on to become successful, and a handful mega-successful.

So why shouldn't yours? As to Amsterdam. It doesn't matter where you open, providing you have done your homework. Any new restaurant, operated really professionally, well publicised, in the right place, with its products at the right price could be a great success. But it will require very hard work indeed. Good Luck.

A brief booklist follows. Go to, select Books then select Hotel And Restaurant Management, you will get a huge choice of which these are some:

  • Owning and Managing a Restaurant - Roy S. Alonzo
  • The Complete Idiot's Guide to Starting Your Own Restaurant - Roy S. Alonzo
  • The Restaurant Start-up Guide: A 12 Month Plan for Successfully Starting a Restaurant; Paperback - Peter Rainsford and David Bangs
  • Your New Restaurant; Paperback - Vincent Mischitelli
  • The Complete Restaurateur: A Practical Guide to the Craft and Business of Restaurant Ownership; Paperback - Elizabeth Lawrence
  • Cost Controls: 25 Keys to Profitable Success (Restaurant Manager's Pocket Handbook); Paperback - David V. Pavesic
  • How to Open and Run a Successful Restaurant: Hardcover - Christopher Egerton-Thomas


Q20. Are Spoon Measures In Pat’s Books Level Or Heaped

Question: Today’s cookery book authors have to be very accurate with weights and measures in their recipes, whereas in fact most recipes will allow for quite a lot of latitude in the measuring. Until very recently no Indian ever wrote a recipe down. It was word of mouth and a pinch or a handful of this or that.

With curry cooking, (spice mixtures in particular) you can vary the quantity of each individual spice according to your taste, as in the age old methods.

So follow my recipes precisely until you are confident, then go your own way, or at best use them to trigger your memory.

Mr R Smith, Frankland, UK Oct 2003

Answer: You are correct to say that many teaspoons vary in size quite considerably. If you examine different makes you’ll soon see that. In fact the official European, UK and American measure for a teaspoon is 5 millilitres (5ml). Since this is liquid it means a level teaspoon. This approximately translates to an average 5 grams (5g) of something dry (such as chilli powder). That’s for a level teaspoon. If we go heaped we have a greater weight. A level dessert spoon is 2 teaspoons (10 ml) and a level tablespoon is 3 teaspoons (15ml).

Next thing to consider is that hardly anyone has scales accurate enough to measure a weight as low as 5ml / 5g.

So be pragmatic, and use the same spoon for each recipe, whatever size, and either go heaped go or level, but don’t mix it up.


Q21. Do American Weights And Measures Vary From British

Question: Some of my books have been republished in the US, and the weights are ‘Americanised’ Most American weights and measures are the same as those in the UK, but there are a few notable exceptions. Apart from the fact that British are following Europe by going metric, (into grams and litres) whereas America is not, even for those who stick doggedly to the old Imperial measures (pounds and ounces, fluid ounces and pints). But it is not that simple. US ounces and pounds are the same as UK ones, but the US have 16 fl oz to the pint, whereas the British have 20 fl oz. Not only that, the US gallon is smaller than the UK gallon, for historical reasons. (1 US gallon = 0.83267 Brit gallons).

Arthur H, Longbeach CA June 2003

Answer: When it comes to cupfuls, it sounds easy, but guess what ... it isn’t! Primarily, an American fluid cupful is US 8 fl oz. In the UK it is 8.3fl oz = 237ml. Solids weighed by cupful vary considerably, because of different densities of different ingredients. For example, a US cupful of white granulated sugar is 200 gm, brown sugar is 220 gm, whereas shredded Cheddar Cheese is 115g. So every ingredient must be considered individually. The US cupful weight of every ingredient is defined in stringent rules laid down by the American Bureau of Standards (ABS). The problem is if you weigh the capacity of your own cups in your kitchen cupboard, I’ll bet there are several sizes. The same goes for tablespoons and teaspoons, for which the American (ABS) and EC standard is 15g/15ml and 5g/5ml respectively. However cup and spoon measures aren’t a bad idea, allowing the cook to visualise a quantity without having to measure or weigh.


Q22. Where Can I Buy Spices And Ingredients By Mail Order

Ingredients Suppliers


Q23. What Is Mustard-Blend Oil

Question asked by Bob Steiner, Jan 2007.

Mustard seed is a popular spice. For thousands of years it has also been distilled to make mustard oil in certain areas of the sub-continent. Used in cooking, it imparts a delicious and particular flavour. Mustard oil is available, bottled, at specialist stores over here.

Recently, British manufacturers added the enigmatic phrase ‘for external use only’ to their labels, as a result of European legislation. Here is the Euro explanation: “Pure mustard oil contains over 22% erucic acid. In large doses this can cause allergic reactions and may be carcinogenic. EU regulations stipulate that no food shall contain over 5% erucic acid”.

Experts define ‘large doses’ as several pints a day for the oil to have any adverse effect. At most, a one- portion recipe requires a teaspoon or two of pure mustard oil. To solve the problem, some manufacturers dilute pure mustard oil with vegetable oil to achieve the proscribed percentage and the resultant product is called ‘blended mustard oil’ or ‘mustard blend oil’. Its flavour is diluted too, of course.

But if you have the slightest reservation about using mustard oil, substitute another oil (for example vegetable oil) in its place.


Q24. Can You Clarify The Use Of Curry Masala Dry, Fried Paste And Gravy

Some of my books use curry masala (home-made curry powder) dry or fried into a paste. It is worth making a largish batch of paste and freezing it in an ice cube mould(s). To use you need about two thawed cubes (4 teaspoons)in a recipe serving four.

Curry Masala gravy gives you the curryhouse restaurant texture. Again make a decent amount of this and freeze in yoghurt pots. You can use this by adding it one tablespoon at a time until you get the texture you want.

Eg: For dry dishes such as Bhoona or Jalfrezi you might need only one or two tablespoons in a recipe serving four. For Korma or Tikka Masala you would need say 300ml.

Here is a new and delicious recipe for Curry Masala Gravy

Makes: c 500ml

  • 500ml water
  • 40ml (3 tablespoons) vegetable oil 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 2 or 3 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 x 225g whole onions, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 carrot, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 green pepper, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  1. Put the oil and water into a 2.25 litre (4 pint) saucepan. and bring to the simmer.1. Put the oil and water into a 2.25 litre (4 pint) saucepan. and bring to the simmer.
  2. Lower the heat and add the onions, fennel and garlic stirring as needed until they have become translucent.
  3. Simmer for about 45 - 60 minutes.
  4. Add the salt.
  5. Mulch the mixture down using a hand blender or jug blender, until you achieve a pourable gravy-like purée. It is a gorgeous golden colour and has the taste of a gentle soup.
  6. To use, simply add by the tablespoon to your fried spice mixture with your cooked main ingredient, until you achieve the texture you require.
  7. To preserve the finished gravy, fill a yoghurt pot(s), pop on its lid and freeze.


Want to learn these and more secrets with Pat? Come on a Cookery Courses, find out about all our current courses, and how to book.


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