I was amazed when a chef told me recently that the first Curry house was opened in the UK over 200 years ago. I was brought up in the 70’s, a time when most UK households were eating fairly plain food and pizza was considered risqué, so felt short changed when I heard about the Hindostanee Coffee House. It was opened in 1809 in London by entrepreneurial migrant Dean Mahomed, and colonial returnees would go there to smoke hookah pipes and tuck into spicy meat and vegetable dishes.
The first recorded recipe for curry came from early Domestic Goddess Hannah Glasse in her book, “The Art of Cooking” way back in 1747. The first recipes were very mild, using more herbs than spices, but by the 19th Century, ginger, cayenne, turmeric, cumin and fenugreek had been added to the mix. In the same book she wrote a recipe for “Paco-Lilla, or India Pickle”, which became Piccalilli. These days we have the Royal seal of approval on such exotica as Shortbread biscuits or Oxford Marmalade (ahem), but Queen Victoria, who also went by the title The Empress of India, could have been the original Spice Girl (off with my head …) with a staff of Indian chefs who cooked Indian food on a daily basis.
So how come I was brought up on meat and two veg? Well, after the Indian soldiers rebelled against the British rule, curry was off the menu in high society homes and everyone who was anyone hired French chefs. The standard British diet became very meat based, teamed up with home grown veg.
In the 1970’s the Bangladesh Liberation War saw the exodus of 10 million refugees as East and West Pakistan were pitted against each other, and many of these displaced people came to the UK ending up in London’s rundown East End. Many of them started up small restaurants, and very slowly Indian food made its way back to the UK. Phew.
I had the pleasure of working with Bristol-based “The Spicery” recently (http://www.thespicery.com/), a business started up by the owner in his bedroom with £5000 after a Eureka moment when travelling the Far East. They deliver fresh spices and new recipes to your door each month, the perfect way to spice up your repertoire and chuck out those old jars lurking in the cupboard since time began.
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