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  • "Going for an Indian" or "having a curry" is almost as stereotypically British as roast dinners or fish and chips.

  • There are around 12,000 curry houses in Britain.

  • The word came from the Tamil "kari", which meant a spiced sauce,

  • but gradually, the term was adapted and used as a generic term for any stew-like food from the Indian subcontinent,

  • rather ignoring such subtleties as regional differences and completely different flavors, textures, cooking methods, and ingredients.

  • The first definite mention of "curry" in English is [in] 1598.

  • But the first recipe for curry published in Britain wasn't until 1747, by which time, Brits, long-time traders with India, were slowly taking over the country.

  • Thousands of British men and women spent time in India; they had Indian cooks and servants.

  • And while some tried to maintain Western eating habits, most quickly embraced the taste of their new home.

  • When they returned to Britain, they brought their new love of Indian food back with them.

  • Those who'd lived in India knew very well that not all Indian dishes were curry,

  • and when the first, albeit short-lived, Indian restaurant in Britain opened in London in 1810,

  • its menu contained "khichdi", "chutnee", and "pulao", dishes later known by the anglicized names "kedgeree", "chutney", and "pilaf".

  • Manuscript books kept by those in the know also differentiated between dishes, but they were very much a minority, and in Britain, curry became a catch-all term for almost anything with Indian spices.

  • Slowly, certain dishes, especially chicken curry, which used an elderly fowl which had stopped laying eggs, entered the mainstream repertoire.

  • Ready-made curry powders were widely sold.

  • British palates were not used to Indian spices, and the early recipes are more like gently-flavored meaty stews laden with turmeric, ginger, and galangal, with cayenne for a hit.

  • By the 19th century, curry was in every cookbook, mainly as a leftover dish.

  • The Anglo-Indian cuisine of this era was a hybrid, using pickled cucumbers to replace mango, apple instead of tamarind, and ready-made spice blends galore.

  • It was great, but had very little in common with its Eastern roots.

  • Queen Victoria took a different approach, regularly eating Indian dishes prepared by the cook to her Indian attendants, who'd joined the royal staff at her Golden Jubilee in 1887.

  • There were a few eating houses run by Indiansmainly for other Indiansin port towns, but it took until the 1920s for high-profile restaurants to open, catering for a British market.

  • By 1946, there were around 20 Indian restaurants in London.

  • Boomtime for curry came after the Second World War, when the partition of India brought migrants from Punjab and Sylhet to Britain.

  • In the 1970s, civil war in Bangladesh saw many Bangladeshis flee to Britain, and even today, many apparently generic Indian restaurants are really Bangladeshi.

  • Curry in its 1970s form was cheap and cheerful, adapted for British tastes.

  • In 2001, the then foreign secretary Robin Cook declared boldly that Britain's national dish was chicken tikka masala, a classic example of an Indian dish, buttered chicken, meeting British tastes.

  • In this case, with the addition of cream and, allegedly, cream of tomato soup.

  • In the last decade or so, the British relationship to Indian food has changed.

  • Most of us have grown out of wanting something so hot it'll hospitalize us.

  • Leading Indian chefs are teaching us that there is so much more to Indian food than the comforting predictability of the average restaurant menu.

  • Maybe after 250 years, we've simply come full circle.

"Going for an Indian" or "having a curry" is almost as stereotypically British as roast dinners or fish and chips.

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