Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Chicken Tikka Masala

When you visit Britian, you probably expect to indulge yourself on Fish & Chips, Pies, Roast Beef or Yorkshire Pudding. Maybe even the intriguingly named Toad-in-the-hole or Bubble & Squeak. But did you know that Britons have made Chicken Tikka Masala the most popular dish in the UK?

Chicken Tikka MasalaThis ‘Indian’ dish is no more Indian than Chicken Manchurian is Chinese. CTM as many locals prefer to call this dish, recently celebrated its 60th anniversary in Britain. It is the country's most popular dish, not just most popular Indian dish. Robin Cook, the former British foreign minister, has hailed it as "Britain's true national dish", relegating fish and chips to second place.

Facts and Figures about Chicken Tikka Masala (Source: Sonzy’s Kitchen):

>> Sainsbury's sell 1.6 million CTM meals every year and stocks 16 CTM-related products including chicken tikka masala pasta sauce. Other derivations include CTM crisps, CTM pizzas, CTM kievs and Marks and Spencer's famous CTM sandwiches (18 tonnes devoured every week).

>> A 1998 survey by Real Curry Restaurant Guide of 48 different CTMs found only common ingredient was chicken.

>> 23 million portions a year are sold in Indian restaurants.

>> 10 tonnes of Chicken Tikka Masala a day are produced by Noon Products destined for supermarkets.

>> Most schools and charities in Sylhet, Bangladesh are run by proceeds from its sales.

>> Chef Iftekar Haris from Newport, Gwent has written a musical in praise of it.

>> Organisers of Kingfisher National Curry Day claim that if all the portions sold in one year in UK were stacked they would constitute a tikka tower 2770 times taller than the Greenwich Millennium Dome.

>> It accounts for a quarter of the total turnover of 2.5 billion pounds of all the 9000 odd 'curry houses' in Britain, and won the Best in Britain Award (BIBA) for best dish in 2002.

Hindustan Times tracks down the origins of the dish which lie shrouded in mystery: If an apocryphal story is to be believed, it was invented by a Bangladeshi chef to please a demanding British customer. The first Bangladeshi restaurants - calling themselves 'Indian restaurants' of course - opened in Britain in the 1940s, serving mostly Punjabi cuisine, specially Chicken Makhani, Chicken Tandoori, Chicken Tikka. At one such restaurant a Sylheti chef served a customer a dry Chicken Tikka dish he had taken some pains over, and was expecting to be appreciated for. Instead the pukka sahib summoned him and hollered: 'Where's the gravy?' In disgust, the chef took the dish back into the kitchen and simply emptied a can of tomato soup into it, adding a few spices as well. When he brought back the altered dish, his customer was delighted. Thus was Chicken Tikka Masala born.

Chicken Tikka MasalaBTW, there is at least one other Indian dish invented in the UK I know of: The Balti Chicken. I suspect Balti cooking became popular with the large influx of Bangladeshi chefs. Baltis (or metal buckets) are often used by Bengalis to serve food at large gathering such as marriages.

In a related news, The Week reports that 8,000 Indian restaurants across the UK are in crisis because restaurant-owners cannot find enough suitably qualified chefs.

A government immigration decision in 2005 to axe short-term visa schemes for foreign workers substantially cut the number of skilled chefs coming in from the subcontinent. First-generation Asians who spent years building up their restaurant businesses are now finding it difficult to persuade their children to follow them into the trade. "The industry risks being destroyed," says Rajesh Suri, owner of Tamarind in Mayfair, the first British Asian restaurant to be awarded the prestigious Michelin Star Award.

Part of the reason behind the British government axing the short-term visa scheme was the recent European Union expansion, which has led to an influx of east Europeans, especially from Poland, entering the UK to find work in the hospitality sector. Walk into a restaurant in London now and the vast majority of service and kitchen staff will come from here, and they work undeniably hard.


Anonymous said...

It's very popular in Canada as well, and I'm ashamed to say I didn't know it wasn't really Indian.

It's not my favorite anyway... :$

CAO- Chef Azura othman said...

In fact everytime Im at a take -aways in the Uk or out with friends to cafe-bars or Pubs , I always ended up with chicken tikka masala .

Unknown said...

While in London, I used to want to try food at every 'Indian' restaurant. I learnt later that most of them were run by Bangaldeshis. Ah well, as long as it tastes good - anything goes...

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Anonymous said...

@zhu: It was invented by the 'Indian' restaurants run by Bangladeshi chefs in Britain. :-)

@azazura: Looks like you enjoy CTM too. Not surprising given how ubiquitous this dish is in UK!

@smita: Yup, most of the early ones were Bangladeshi ones.

@shaan: Hmmm...that's a difficult one, given that this is almost like fast food and available at a large number of small eateries.

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Lakshmi said...

recently in Zurich, we were told that there was an Indian restaurant and we were quite surprised when we heard that it was run by a couple from the UK

Unknown said...

I love it. Since I love spicy food I like mine to be really spicy and served with rice. Yummm

foodette said...

I can't believe it! This is my husband's favorite "Indian" dish! I can't wait to tell him that it's actually British.

Anonymous said...

@shaan: Thanks for listing your fave CTM places in London for my readers! Re: Tunday Kabab, you are welcome. It's a must-eat destination for kabab lovers who visit Lucknow.

@backpakker: I guess it is a good sign. Indian food is finally going the way of Chinese food. :-)

@random magus: I love spicy too! :-)

@foodette: Ha,ha. British made-Indian dish would be a better way to classify this dish.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for giving me a mention in your post. Now, I have released an ebook which lets you make the "CTM" and many other Indian authentic "curries" or "masalas" at home - the restaurant style.


Anonymous said...

CTM, delicious!! But between CTM and good old fish and chips?? Now that's a hard one to call.

GingGoy said...

so this is the story behind CTM. i always love to the history behind dishes and blog about them :P

Vims said...

awesome blog shantanu...its been added as a bookmarked link on my comp!

Anonymous said...

@sonzyskitchen: COngratulations! I will look out for the eBook.

@thaiqa: I would think so too. :-)

@philippine dragonfly: I do too. Will check out your food posts from the past.

@vimaljit: Thanks!

kent said...

Thanks for the comment.

I would say that I should be jealous of you. I would love to travel as much as you do and eat so many amazing dishes.

Keep up the good work!

Sia said...

thank u for leaving a trail in my blog and leading to urs. yes, CTM is the most popular dish here in UK and its become a curry loving country.

Anonymous said...

@kent: Maybe I envy you because you go to places I have never been to: East Europe, West Asia and the Middle East.

@sia: Welcome to my blog!

Sonzy said...

Awesome Blog ! Keep it up.
I have been writing about Chicken Tikka Masala on my own blog too.