"What's your favourite restaurant?" I am
regularly asked by media and interested parties as if the 'Indian'
curry scene were an homogenous unit throughout Britain when actually
nothing could be further from the truth.
In most British, French or Italian restaurants a
named dish will probably be basically the same in taste no matter the
restaurant with quality of ingredients and cooking being the
criteria. Not so in Indian restaurants where no two chicken tikka
masalas are likely to taste or even look the same.
There are several reasons for this but the basic
one is that we do not have a basic set of rules for Indian cuisine in
UK - no Escoffier or even Mrs Beaton. Indian cuisine is a very
individualistic one where the vital ingredient, the masala, can vary
from region to region, village to village even house to house.
Add to this the fact that over two thirds of our
Indian restaurants are, in fact Bangladeshi and many of the others
Pakistani plus smaller Indian, Sri Lankan and Nepalese sectors and
obvious differences emerge.
In broad terms most of the 'Indian' cuisine in the
home counties is Bangladeshi but not so throughout the country as we
are often given to believe. Birmingham, the home of the balti, is
largely Kashmiri and as you move north to Bradford or Manchester it
is Pakistani and further north still to Scotland where you have a mix
in Edinburgh and Punjabi in Glasgow.
According to the last Census 12.8% of the British
population is non-white with Indian accounting for 2.3%, Pakistani,
1.9% and Bangladeshi 0.7% and growing.
The largest concentration of Bangleshis and hence
Bangladeshi style restaurants are Tower Hamlets, Newham, London in
general, Oldham and Luton whereas Indians are predominant in
Leicester and Slough. Pakistanis main areas are Rochdale, Leeds,
Oldham, Kirklees and Sheffield.
Given this variety it is not surprising that the
taste and presentation of dishes we all know by name, varies from
region to region and restaurant to restaurant and satisfaction is
often down to the likes and dislikes of the customer.
If you are expecting a Pakistani /Indian influence
try Blackburn, Darwen, Bolton, Rochdale, Preston, Sheffield,
Bradford, Kirklees, Calderdale, Leeds, Coventry, Slough. If your
preference is Bangladeshi/Indian try Greater London, Bristol, Oxford,
Sandwell or Oldham. If its Punjabi you are looking for try Southall,
Wembley or Glasgow and if it's vegetarian go for Tooting or Leicester.
It is probably this very difference and culinary
anarchy that makes the cuisine of the Indian sub continent so popular
in Britain and long may it continue.