Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Britain's Favourite Pillau Talk; Curry: A Biography by Lizzie Collingham (Chatto, [Pounds Sterling]16.99)

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Britain's Favourite Pillau Talk; Curry: A Biography by Lizzie Collingham (Chatto, [Pounds Sterling]16.99)

Article excerpt

Byline: CHRIS BRAY

AT THE last count there were about 8,000 Indian restaurants in Britain, most of them, by my reckoning, serving the most reliable snap in their area. The Modern British food in the gastropub across the road might be more inventive, the mock-rustic tagliatelle in the blonde-wood Italian cafe more nutritious - then again, they might not.

But the curry house is almost preternaturally dependable. To eat well in England, they used to say, you should breakfast three times a day. Nowadays, you could do worse than make tarkas and tikkas and tandooris your staple diet.

Given that in 1997 we Brits spent [pounds sterling]7.7 million on mango chutney, the statistical likelihood is that some people are doing just that. Not for nothing did former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook call chicken tikka masala our national dish.

He took a lot of stick for saying it.

Far from being a shining beacon of British multiculturalism, the foodies sneered, chicken tikka masala was a bastardised broth - just the latest example of our ability to render execrable hitherto exciting foreign dishes.

Yet this is hardly the most heinous crime. At least we eat curry. Try tempting an Italian to eat foods other than those he grew up on. Try tempting a Greek, or a Spaniard.

But the real nail in the coffin of Cook's critics is the fact that Indian food was a pastiche from the off. As Lizzie Collingham shows in this bewitching book, curry is the most visible result of the culinary imperialism India has endured - or enjoyed - during the many invasions it has suffered.

When the Mughals conquered Northern India, for instance, they announced themselves dissatisfied with the greasiness of the local food, and the biryani was born.

That lager lout's favourite, the vindaloo, is a by-product of the Portuguese taking vinegar and chillies to Calicut. Anyone who believes we Brits acquired our teadrinking habit in India is in for a shock: we introduced them to the cup that cheers. …

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