Spice Up Your Life: A Guide to Anglo-Indian Food in Manchester

I heard a story once which really made me laugh. Apparently, an Indian Restaurant down in Didsbury took poppadoms off the menu, and there was literally a riot.

By Manchester's Finest | 23 October 2018

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The British people demanded that they have their crispy snack back on the menu despite the dish not technically fitting with the cuisine of the restaurant.

This had me thinking about the relationship between British people and Indian food. It is something we hold close to our heart sure, and something which is now interwoven with our culture in the most beautiful way, but the relationship between the two certainly goes back much further. So I did a little research on the subject, and this is what I found…

Days of the Raj

India was under British rule from 1858 to 1947 which is a period referred to as the British Raj. With the Crown ruling over India, it brought with it an entire community of British ex-pats who were then introduced to an entirely new world of flavours, methods and ingredients.

Anglo-Indian food was indeed developed when wealthy British wives interacted with their Indian cooks to create dishes which were of the ‘local style’ and used the indigenous ingredients but still were familiar enough to taste like home.

Mulligatawny soup is probably the most famous example of this. It literally translates to ‘pepper-water’ and is a thin soup flavoured with tamarind, red chillies and lots and lots of garlic.

Naturally, the weather is so hot that Indians would not typically choose a steaming bowl of soup, but it was concocted by local chefs to give the Brits a dish which was not too alien.

The other famous dish that was devised during the days of the British Raj would be Kedgeree. This is a breakfast dish formed of rice, smoked haddock, hard-boiled eggs and curry powder based on the Indian dish khichri.

The eggs and smoked haddock are, again, ingredients used to make an Indian dish a little more friendly to the British palate while the inclusion of the curry powder gives a tremendous amount of flavour without being too overwhelming with spice.

Kedgeree can be eaten hot or cold at any time of the day- but it is most familiar as a breakfast dish. You can get kedgeree on the brunch menu at Evelyn’s which comes topped with a lovely soft poached egg and crispy shallots.

The thing we went mad for the most, however, during the British Raj was chutney. It borrowed from the tradition of jam making and was a perfect combination of sweet, sour, sticky and spicy. Major Grey’s Chutney is a famous one which is basically a spruced up mango chutney which we know has had lasting popularity.

When many brits came home, they devised all sorts of chutneys and pickles themselves with more native fruits and vegetables.

The most famous of these would be piccalilli which combines various veggies with Indian spices like turmeric, and mustard seed to form the perfect accompaniment to picnics and sandwiches. Try the Ham and Piccalilli sandwich at The Bay Horse Tavern for a real taste of what Anglo-Indian food is all about.

The British Impact

As much as Indian food had a significant impact on the British, the stuff we brought over made an equally substantial effect on the Indian palate. It is hard to think about it now with India being one of the biggest producers of tea in the entire world, but one of the things that India caught the bug for was tea.

Tea has been popular in India in earnest since the 1920’s after the British brought it over to drink in the afternoons and at breakfast- something we had been doing for a few hundred years previously.

At this time, most teas came from China, and it was therefore entirely new to the Indians who did not have significant trade relations with the rest of the world. Almost one-hundred years later, India is home to specific blends like Ansam and Darjeeling which are grown there exclusively with one of the largest and the most technologically equipped tea industries in the world.

Indians often cook desi chai which you can try with your Indian Brunch over at Zouk. Desi Chai is regular tea cooked in milk with additional spices like cloves, cinnamon, star anise and sugar- but it is important to note that every blend and cup is different depending on the family who makes it. It is a sweet, milky, and gorgeous way to settle the stomach after eating a heavy meal.

And it isn’t just tea that India has to thank us for. There are also countless other ingredients we introduced during the Raji which are still used today. Think potato, nutmeg, spinach, smoked meat, dried fish and of course bread, cakes and pastry which Indians go mad for even today.

Bread as we know it is popular in India since the British Raj. Native bread tends to be unleavened and flat like a naan, a paratha or a chapatti. The Brits wanted white bread, specifically buns, cooked in an oven and served cold with butter.

You can still see this tradition in Indian with dishes that have stuck around after the days of the Raj such as Pav Baji– a slow-cooked vegetarian curry, typically with chickpeas, which comes served with a buttered white bun which you can try at Indian Tiffin Room.

Another example would be the infamous Vada Pav -a spiced potato cake laced with chutney and served in a brioche-esque roll which you can get your chops stuck into at Bundobust. Seriously, if you haven’t tried either of these dishes, you need to reevaluate your life.


The Modern Day

The Raj ended in 1947, and most Brits came back to the UK with their freshly adapted palates and a pocket full of Indian spices and flavours. It wasn’t until the massive influx of Indian immigrants in the early 1960s where the UK started to really get a taste for curry. And man, do we bloody love it now -so much so, that some of our national dishes are in fact Anglo-Indian.

One of these would be chicken tikka masala– which you will be surprised to learn is not from India at all and is a true Anglo-Indian dish. It was invented in Glasgow by Ali Ahmed Aslam, proprietor of the Shish Mahal restaurant in the west end of the city.

He came up with it when improvising and marinating the chicken pieces in yoghurt overnight to create a milder flavour that might be more popular with British tastes that aren’t used to all that spice.

It is now classed as the UK’s national dish and is an excellent example of how chefs have adapted various flavours and techniques to match a well-integrated culture.

The best tikka masala is an article in itself, but I am going to put forward Ziya Grill in Rusholme- they marinate the chicken then grill it over hot coals before putting it in the creamy orange sauce which is mild but packed with flavour. This is my go-to hangover dish every time.

The Vindaloo is another example of this and a staple to any curry house menu here in the UK. Although it has roots in Goan cuisine, it is widely accepted that this dish falls under the category of Anglo-Indian. It is known as being very spicy flavoured with chilli and vinegar for its distinct tang.

There is fantastic vindaloo on the menu over at Asha’s, and what is more is that you can choose to have it traditionally with lamb or with duck for a bit more of a modern twist which is just so moreish. If you think duck doesn’t belong a curry, try this and think again.

The next step up in terms of spice, the Phall, is an entirely British conception made by some blokes down in Birmingham in the 1980s. Quite frankly, it is hot as fuck, with the additions of habanero peppers and scotch bonnets. It isn’t on the menu at Scene, but they will cook it up for you if you ask them nicely. We went down to try it a couple months back- which you can watch here.

It is probably sacrilege to suggest this, but I think nothing describes how much us Brits have adopted Indian food as our own better than the institution that is chip shop curry sauce.

Now hear me out. I know it is in no way, shape or form ‘authentic’. I know that there are no fresh Indian ingredients in there. I see that chip shop curry sauce is as far away from actual Indian cooking as I am from going Vegan, but the point is about the marriage of the two in a way that describes the interrelationship of Anglo-Indian cuisine perfectly.

Nothing in the world describes Anglo-Indian cuisine better than fish chips and curry sauce, and if you have been living in a cave or lost the use of your taste buds and want to try it, look no further than the best chippy in Manchester (radical I know) Atlantic Fish Bar in Chorlton.

The curry sauce is everything it needs to be, and when smothered all over those thick, juicy chip-shop chips I really cannot fault it.  They also do a curry mayo with the fish and chips over at Trof as well, which deserves an honourable mention too.