So the Olympics are officially over – and we are sad (though we are looking forward to Rio)! However, while the international athletes may have gone home, the international food scene in London is only growing. With over 8 million people, London has an amazingly diverse population and food scene. Indian food, arguably the most popular cuisine in the UK, is found nearly everywhere in the city, and there are amazing Indian restaurants for every budget. While London has long been home to South Asian food on Brick Lane and has a Vibrant Chinatown, it is home to many other far-flung cuisines. London Ethnic Eating is a blog dedicated to exploring ethnic food in the city, turning up eateries ranging from Vietnamese to Algerian. Time Out London’s List of top 50 restaurants includes many international options.
Tag Archives: United Kingdom
It is no secret that we are mad about food carts, and we consider them to be one of America’s most important exports. Food cart culture has spread to Paris in recent years and has taken root in London. It is worth noting that food “cart” and food “truck” have very different connotations in British English, with food carts having a somewhat dubious reputation. Not to fear though, high quality and innovative food trucks are on the rise in London, right on the heels of booming food truck culture in the US. The variety of London food truck is admirably vast and street foodies can choose from gourmet burgers, curry, chocolate, Vietnamese, and Mexican, among others.
The Guardian has a list of food trucks picks in London , along with some mouth-watering recipes from each (we are especially digging the Carnitas recipe from Luardos). Migrationology has another round of 6 picks, including meatballs and hotdogs (sounds a little familiar to Chicago, no?). Another truck that found its way onto nearly all of the lists was Crêperie Nicholas, a fan-favorite for crêpes, served out of a restored 1965 Citroën truck. Southern food has also made its way to London, and the Pitt Cue Co. truck even offers pulled pork. This extremely important development means we could move to London easily, should the need arise. Most intriguingly we are excited to note the appearance of the HMS Flake 99, an ice cream truck that doubles as a BOAT (see below). For the latest in London street food developments, you can keep up with the Eat.st site.
Until about a week ago, Team GB had all but struck-out in the medal department at their home Olympics. Fast forward half a fortnight, and their 16 golds places them third on the overall list, as well as garnering them today’s national dish highlight at ETW – chicken tikka masala. Wikipedia offers this succinct definition: “Chicken tikka masala is chicken tikka, chunks of chicken marinated in spices and yogurt, that is then baked in a tandoor oven, [and] served in a masala (‘mixture of spices’) sauce.” The recipes variations are as wide-ranging as its origin histories, but nothing obscures its popularity. Recently Robin Cook, the British Foreign Secretary, declared chicken tikka masala as the new national dish of the United Kingdom. Today, 1 in 7 of all curries sold in Britain are tikka masala, and it is the most popular restaurant dish in the country. But while tikka masala is unquestionably popular in Britain, and has been declared the national dish, its transnational origins reveal a fascinatingly complex and controversial history.
Tandoor clay ovens, today a mainstay of the types of Indian cooking popular in Europe and the United States, were actually invented over 5,000 years ago, raising in popularity alongside the rise of chicken domestication on the Indian subcontinent. ‘Tikka’ itself refers to a specific way of cutting chicken into bit-size squares prior to cooking the meat in the tandoor over. This style was supposedly invented by the first Mughal emperor, Babur, who is rumored to have been so afraid of choking on chicken bones he ordered his chefs to remove them. Thus, by the beginning of the Mughal Dynasty around 1500, everything was already in place for chicken tikka masala. There are some, then, who insist that tikka masala in its current form is thus a Mughal dish: for example, Zaeemuddin Ahmad, chef at the Karim Hotel in Delhi, claims that the recipe for tikka masala has been passed down through generations of his family, originating during the reign of Bahadur Shah II (1837-1857).
Bahadur Shah II was deposed by the British in 1858, ushering in an era of British rule, and launching a colonial era that saw, as the writer at Food Detective’s Diary so eloquently stated, Britons raid India of “Curries, bungalows and of course the Kohinoor diamond.” But among the spoils of colonialism was not, it appears, tikka masala: the dish did not appear in British restaurants until the 1960s, following a wave of Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi immigration to Britain following the independence and partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1949.
Exactly how, where, and when tikka masala’s current form first appeared is a matter of heated debate. The bases for the dish, it seems, pretty clearly date back to the Mughal period. The rich masala sauce that forms the heart of the dish may have been developed in India, perhaps to suit the changing palettes of an increasingly multicultural clientele: Rahul Verma, one of India’s most authoritative street food experts, claims he first tasted the dish in Punjab in 1971, arguing that its origins probably lie 4o or 50 years earlier in the same region, borne of an accidental discovery that has been periodically updated and improvised.
When tikka appears in Britain, it seems to do to cater to native British palettes. For a great history of tikka masala, we highly recommend Lizzie Collingham’s work in Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors, where she argues that, contrary to historians who situate tikka masala as proof of Britain’s multiculturalism, it in fact “was not a shining example of British multiculturalism but a demonstration of the British facility for reducing all foreign foods to their most unappetizing and inedible forms.”
Ahmed Aslam Ali, owner and operator of the Shish Mahal Restaurant in Glasgow, would appear to agree with Collingham’s history. In 2009, Ali, along with a group of Scottish MPs, petitioned the European Union to officially recognize chicken tikka masala through a “Protected Designation of Origin” in Glasgow (much like Parma’s Parmesan cheese). Ali claims to have invented the dish at his restaurant in the early 1970s, stating, “We used to make chicken tikka and one day a customer said ‘I’d take some sauce with that, this is a bit dry’ so we cooked chicken tikka with the sauce which contains yoghurt, cream, spices.” This story has become part of the tikka masala legend, often repeated as the a-ha moment in the history of the dish.
True or not, the exchange Ali claims is a metaphor for the dish’s history. A clash of cultural palettes in the colonizer’s land, with a demand to adapt cuisine to suit other tastes. In the face of the pressure, the dish had no choice but to reinvent itself, and with a small change went from a complex dish formed through millennia of Indian history to the national cuisine of Britain. The singular moment of creation is a common trope in histories like this. True or not, Ali’s story has appeal, but for us, the tikka masala’s complex transnational history, formed through millennia across two continents, is just another illustration of why we love food so much.
Happy eating, Britain!
What with the Diamond Jubilee reaching fever pitch, you might find yourself hankering for some British food while stateside. Though Chicago may be flooded with Irish (and even Scottish) pubs, it is also home to some pretty good British food. We were very pleased to learn that the historically Irish neighborhood of Bridgeport on the south side is home to a couple of noteworthy British options. The first is Bridgeport Pasty, a food truck which was recently awarded 3rd place in the World Pasty Championships. The pasty (rhymes with “vast”) is a filled savory pastry that originated in Cornwall, and is now found in countries with large amounts of Cornish immigrants (such as the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where there is even a PastyFest). For other British cravings, a bricks and mortar shop also in Bridgeport, Pleasant House Bakery (964 West 31st Street) is known for its savory pies. So there are definitely some places for homesick British and American Anglophiles alike.
Jaffa Cake by Stuart Bryant
A co-worker recently got back from the UK and brought back a dozen boxes of Jaffa cakes, specifically McVitie’s, the producers of the original Jaffa Cake in 1927. Jaffa cakes are a soft cookie with a layer of apricot/orange jam on one side, covered in dark chocolate. I am all for the flavor combo of orange and chocolate so these are right up my alley. However, that’s not all there is to the Jaffa cake story, apparently every British snack food maker has their own version of the cake. And moreover, there was some scandal over if they were proerly classified as “cakes” or “cookies” because in the UK cookies get taxed much more steeply than cakes. McVities even went to Inland Renvue to claim their status as ‘cakes.’
So what is it? Welsh rarebit is apparently a beloved Welsh sauce (served over toast), consisting of cheese, mustard and beer. Actually sounds pretty tasty! For a long time I though it was something akin to sweetbreads – innocuous sounding, but disgusting. According to Wikipedia, this bechamel-esque dish has a long and storied past, originally being called “Welsh Rabbit.” Ambrose Bierce even included ‘Rarebit,’ in The Devil’s Dictionary:
“RAREBIT n. A Welsh rabbit, in the speech of the humorless, who point out that it is not a rabbit. To whom it may be solemnly explained that the comestible known as toad in the hole is really not a toad, and that ris de veau à la financière is not the smile of a calf prepared after the recipe of a she banker.”
The New York Times has a tasty-sounding recipe, definitely worth a try in the near future, especially given the lack of British dishes in our repertoire.