The concept of a national dish is something intrinsically linked to our sense of culture.
In Brazil, it is Feijoada– a rich pork and black bean stew eaten by rich and poor alike. In Jamaica, it is Jerk Chicken cooked in aromatic spices on a barbeque. In Korea, it is a steaming bowl of Bibimbap while the Aussie’s go wild for Vegemite on Toast. National Dishes are an important symbol for a country, but do you know ours here in the UK?
Britain’s national dish is something that has been challenged and changed over the years, taking on the likes of a Sunday Roast, Fish & Chips and Bangers & Mash. We like stodge, we like meat, and most importantly, we bloody love a bit of gravy.
Be that as it may, current supremacy in the Great British food battle actually goes to something we might not initially expect. The long-standing national dish here in the UK is Chicken Tikka Masala which you won’t be surprised to learn is actually Indian…well, sort of.
In terms of an origin story, there are quite a few. Many food critics claim that the dish was almost certainly developed in Punjab 40-50 years ago. Others suggest that it was devised in India to suit the more delicate palates of Brits living in India during the years of the British Empire and the Raj (1858-1947).
On the other hand, others reckon that the chicken tikka masala was certainly invented in the UK, most likely by migrated Bangladeshi chefs in the mid-1960s. This was a time when there was a mass of recently settled chefs who were opening restaurants with a range of new ‘inauthentic’ dishes including (probably) this one.
Slightly more specifically, others believe that this dish originated in an Indian restaurant in Glasgow. The story goes that on a typically wet and miserable Scottish evening, a bus driver came into the restaurant and ordered a chicken curry.
After sending it back for being too dry, the chef chucked in a tin of cream of tomato soup with some spices and sent it back. The driver went mad for it, and he told all his wee pals about it who came in their droves to try it. The restaurant kept it on the menu and it took the entire country by storm.
If the latter is the truth (I’m going to say it is because it is the story I like the most) I’m sure such an extreme bastardisation Indian cookery wasn’t easy for every chef in the country to swallow. But they got the memo and slowly developed a mild, tomato-based, saucy curry which is as highly treasured in our culture as a proper brew, queuing, and saying ‘sorry’ for no reason.
I’ve got to say, the Glasgow story could be read as a little far fetched. Nonetheless, it doesn’t matter which origin story you believe, – there is a common thread between them all. Chicken Tikka Masala is a curry adapted for the British palate which was promptly adopted by the public with open, loving arms.
Chicken Tikka is undeniably Indian at its origin, but I cannot help but think that its genesis was perhaps born from our British need to eat meat in some sort of gravy. We all know how much we love our gravy.
All in all, it might at first seem surprising that our national dish hails from a faraway land. What’s more, it is even more astonishing that it is a dish which has only been around for the past forty years compared to hundreds of other, native dishes which have stood the test of time.
However and all in all, I think Chicken Tikka Masala is the perfect choice for our national dish. It is damn tasty and is the perfect illustration of how Britain welcomes and absorbs external cultural influences which is a beautiful thing indeed.