There are many dishes from many cuisines that nowadays are called curry, but the word ‘curry‘ is derived from the Tamil word ‘kari’, meaning a spiced dish of sautéed vegetables and meat. Members of the British East India company who traded with Tamil merchants came to enjoy their particular blend of spices called ‘kari pod’, which in turn, came to be known as ‘curry powder’ and from this introduction to the English language, other dishes throughout the world, that were heavily spiced (by British standards) came to be known as ‘curries’. However ,it is very rare for the word ‘curry’ to be used in India, as the dishes are called by their specific names, such as Rogan Josh, Vindaloo, Korma, etc.
To this day, Britains still have a love for curry like no other country outside of the Indian subcontinent, partly due to the partition of India, when many immigrants came to Britain and opened up Indian restaurants. The food that they brought with them and developed provided a new and exotic alternative to standard British fare. So much so that Chicken Tikka Masala is now regarded as the British national dish, illustrating the way that Britain absorbs and adapts external influences.
The dishes found in British Indian restaurants today would be unrecognisable and alien to people from the Indian subcontinent, in that typical Indian street food such as poppadums, samosas, pakoras, etc are served as appetizers, Dahl is served as a soup instead of as part of a meal, the Western idea of separate courses and the amount of meat in cooked in the dishes. Thus a new and separate cuisine has developed from Indian Subcontinent cuisines, known as the British Indian Restaurant Curry (B.I.R.) and can now be found in various large cities throughout the world. However the British love for extra hot and spicy curries tends not to travel, and BIR style restaurants tend to ‘tone’ down the curries in other countries.
Typical Dishes in a British Indian Style Restaurant
- Korma – A mildly spiced. creamy curry usually containing nuts such as almonds, coconut or cashews.
- Jalfrezi – A medium hot curry with a tomato, onion base with plenty of chili peppers.
- Roghan Josh – A spicy, aromatic lamb dish from Kashmir
- Tikka Masala – Britain’s National Dish made from chicken marinated in yoghurt, cooked in a tandoor and then covered in a creamy tomato curry sauce
- Balti – Pakistani inspired cooking developed in Birmingham, UK. Served in a small wok style dish called a balti bowls.
- Tandoori – Dishes cooked in a Tandoor oven, which create a grilled flavour
- Madras – A medium spicy hot curry
- Vindaloo – A very hot curry with potatoes from Goa.
- Phall – Usually the hottest curry on a menu. Typically made from a tomato base with ginger, fennel seeds and a lot of chili peppers
- Dahl - A spicy dish made from either lentils, peas or beans
- Naan Bread – A flat bread eaten as an accompaniment to curry. It is created with yoghurt, brushed with ghee and cooked in a tandoor oven. Typically served plain, or with garlic and coriander (cilantro), keema (stuffed with minced meat) or Peshawari (stuffed with nuts and raisins).
- Pilau rice – A colourful, basmati rice accompaniment to curry.
- Poppadoms – Fried gram flour ‘crackers’ served as a starter with various chutneys or relishes such as mango chutney, lime pickle, riata, etc
- Pakoras or bhajis – A spiced gram flour fritter, made from vegetables such as onions, spinach, etc. Usually served as an appetizer.