Curry – A truly British Dish

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.

British Indian Restaurant Curry

British Indian Restaurant Curries

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
  • MadrasA 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.


Essential Kitchen Supplies

    1 comment

      • David Williams on February 1, 2017 at 4:48 am
      • Reply

      Thank you Stuart for all your recipes and information about the B.I.R. curry that I have been so terribly addicted to ever since my then girlfriend, Joanne Murray introduced me to one in Brighton in 1978. I was cautious, in fact I think I let her order for me. She asked for a lager beer, “a half madam?”, no a pint please.
      I just had to order a half. (Although I really wanted a pint). We felt we were part of a new wave in gender politics
      Anyway Joanne Murray, I blame her for my addiction to a Ruby Murray.
      I’ve been cooking curries from scratch for the last years, but have needed a very long afternoon, generally
      quite good results. Very fresh, but have never quite cracked the proper restaurant curry.
      I’ve even volunteered to do a KP shift for nothing in my current favourite restaurant’s kitchen, but they weren’t having it.
      Like the Manhattan Project. A strictly need to know basis.
      Anyway now I know, and thanks to you.
      Thanks also for citing those books, “A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors” sounds great.

      “My name is David, and I’m a curryholic”

    Leave a Reply

    We are glad you have chosen to leave a comment. Please bear in mind that all comments are moderated and that by submitting a comment you agree to our Privacy Policy. All fields are required.

    Don’t Go!
    Just Yet

    Thanks for visiting. We know you love curry, but before you go, take a look at some other curry recipes.