It’s not (just) curry!

Anoothi Vishal and Camellia Panjabi explore the culinary ties between India and the UK at Veerawamy, the oldest Indian restaurant in London. An exclusive feature by Asian Lite International. 

Anoothi Vishal, one of India’s well-known culinary historians and authors, and Camellia Panjabi, author and restaurateur, recently created a unique experience to explore the culinary interaction between Britain and India over the last 250 years, that has reshaped modern Indian as well as the UK gastronomy on the anvil of King Charles III coronation in May.

The invite-only exclusive curated experience was held at Veeraswamy, the oldest Indian restaurant in the UK in partnership with Glenmorangie single malt Scotch whisky.

Ms Vishal talked about the importance of 200 years in the Indian subcontinent, between the 1750s and the 1940s, and discussed the significance of Britain’s presence in India which had altered tastes, trends and even the idea of Indian food.

“The English presence and European ingredients and influences entwined with the ancient Indian and Mughal cultures of the subcontinent to give us distinctive dishes that we still associated with the Raj, and which are a part of Indian gastronomy even today”, she says.

With the shift in the political power from Old Delhi to regional rich centres like Avadh and Hyderabad, and then to Calcutta, the mingling of cultures and often a clash of civilisations produced an array of arresting flavours. Some of the dishes that come out of the complicated and close relations between India and the UK are Scotch Egg, a refashioned NARGISI Kofte, fish molee, Madras curry powder and finally butter chicken and tikka masala, commonly refer to as curry or ‘Indian food.’

Speaking about ‘Curry’ Ms Vishal said, “Curry, one of the staple and beloved dishes in modern Britain, is the colonial gaze on Indian cuisine that has reduced the complexity of Indian spicing.”

Camellia Panjabi discussed the major changes that have taken place in the cuisine of both countries in the last 75 years after the departure of the British from India. Despite experiencing an amazing growth in India, some of the international hotel chains and stand-alone restaurants in India are not nurturing Indian cuisines mostly featuring the same 20 traditional Indian food items found all over the world. However, some Indian restaurants in Britain are taking Indian food to a fine dining level through the best of India’s culinary talents, who have been leaving India’s shores for a long time.

“Some of the most innovative Indian restaurants are now found besides London in other international cities, like Bangkok, Singapore, and the United States, as this young talent find quicker acceptance of innovative Indian food outside of India”, said Panjabi.

The interaction between India and Britain was not limited to just food as a robust exchange has taken place in the drinking traditions between the two countries as well. Arack, a generic word for locally distilled alcohol in India, became pretty fashionable in aristocratic Regency circles: The Regent’s punch (punch referring to panch or five in Hindi, the number of ingredients used) being a hearty concoction of gentlemen, combining this heady Indies alcohol with citrus, tea, spices and pink champagne. In return, a fashion for Scotch caught on in princely India by the Victorian age.

Ipsita Das, Managing Director, Moet Hennessy India said, “”Luxury today is not just limited to the product, it is the holistic experience offered by a brand that truly distinguishes it in the market. India is predominantly a brown spirit loving country with a large blended scotch whisky consumption and has witnessed a significant skew towards single malt consumption. There has been a large shift towards premiumization over the last couple of years, owing to the age of the pandemic. Consumers are now shifting towards our luxury and extra matured expressions making way for elevated moments of consumption.”

About Maharaja Highball and Glenmorangie Punch

India has just become the world’s biggest market for whisky but its association with Scotch has been a very long one. Scotch gained favour amongst the English aristocracy when it became the drink of choice for Queen Victoria. The Indian princely states under the Raj in the 19th century became connoisseurs, importing from distilleries, including Glenmorangie’s.

About Anoothi Vishal

Anoothi Vishal is the acclaimed author of “Business On A Platter: What Makes Restaurants Sizzle or Fizzle Out”, and “Mrs LC’s Table: Stories about Kayasth Food and Culture”. Ms Vishal founded the Great Delhi Pop-up in 2012, an umbrella under which she works to put together unique and immersive food experiences centred around lesser-known cuisines, food cultures and local ingredients for diverse audiences. She has curated several historically-researched culinary experiences, working with top chefs in the country at leading hotels and restaurants pan India, as well as in London, and Milan. 

About Veeraswamy

Situated in a prime location off London’s Regent Street, Veeraswamy has been offering the finest Indian cuisine since 1926. It is the oldest Indian restaurant in the UK, serving classical Indian food attuned to 21st-century tastes.

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