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British curry vs. Indian curry

Is a British curry different from an Indian curry?

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  1. It's Indian-inspired but almost always hotter (in Scoville units) than any Indian curry would be.

    10 Replies
    1. re: Das Ubergeek

      Are you NUTS?!? Indian curries can be FAR hotter than english ones. Indian curries, can create time warps. Some English curries have raisins (eew) I always hated it when my parents did that.

      1. re: Diana

        Apparently you're blind to the word "almost". A curry in England is almost (whoops, there's that word again) always hotter by default than its equivalent in India.

        Southern Indian curries tend to be hotter (and often tempered with coconut milk) than their Northern counterparts. 90% of the Indian food served in these United States is of Northern (mostly Punjabi) derivation, thus it's less hot. An English curry in this country, though, apparently is meant to appeal to people with a high tolerance for capsaicin, because they're always hot to me.

        1. re: Das Ubergeek

          I have a different experience, I guess. I've had curries in England a lot, and have never found any of them to be all that hot. I'm talking from Indian places in England.

          Some people mix up Vindaloo and curry. I can see how an Vindaloo in England made by someone of Indian descent would kick any curry's butt.

          Also, you get a lot of Pakistani food in England, which is similar and can also be scorching.

          but please, there's no call to be snyde!

          I have no clue why English curries would be hotter "by default".

          English curries I've had here in the US have not competed with any hot curry from an indian place here. Of course, I always tell the waiter I am able to handle hot. Perhaps "by default" Indian wiaters just always put your order in for mild curry? That can happen, unless you are specific.

          IN English places,no one bothers asking, because most of them don't offer heat options.

          But this is just my experience.

          1. re: Diana

            Diana, are you speaking about your experiences at restaurants in India versus Indian restuarants in England? Or are you speaking about a US/UK difference?

            This also leads me to something I see a lot on Chowhound: a dogged pride the ability to handle 'hot'-- it actually makes me think of a sketch on Goodness Gracious Me in which Indians head to an English restaurant (drunk, of course), over order, and proudly declare their tolerance for the blandest food possible. Make it bland, I can handle it!

            1. re: Lizard

              both here and in England. I want to try Indian food in INdia, but that will take more savings!

              I'm not really bragging, I just like my food a little hotter. I find that once you get used to heat, you don't taste it as much, and therefore need it HOTTER. The more you eat, the more it takes to cause a reaction.

              Odd, that, but the same food that ws inedible to me 23 years ago due to heat is barely a tingle now. I have a friend who can eat habaneros like candy, and says Californian hot sauce and salsa is weak. She came from Texas. She likes the smokey flavor, not the heat.

              I have known waiters to give non-indian customers mild curry "by default".

              I'm surprised I haven't dulled my taste buds, but it hasn't seemed to have done that.

              1. re: Diana

                "I'm surprised I haven't dulled my taste buds"

                Taste buds naturally dull with age. I've seen this actually used as a partial explanation for the surge of interest in spicy cuisine in the US (ie a combination of availability w/ aging baby boomers needing more stimuli in their mouths).

                "She likes the smokey flavor"

                Habaneros aren't exactly known for smokey flavors ....

                1. re: jgg13

                  Though with age other parts of the GI tract become more sensitive to spice. The baby boomers are also the Prilosec generation. Males in their 20's are more likely to be pushing habaneros than their fathers or grandfathers. :)

                  1. re: paulj

                    That would explain the increase of heartburn as I get older ...

            2. re: Diana

              Actually, most of the indian food in the UK is Bangladeshi.

              1. re: adrienne156

                Also not boasting, but here:

                I'm English, and as such, eat quita a lot of curry. If the canteen at work didn't server curry once a week, I'd probably have about one a fortnight. I've been to most curry places in my town, but the one nearest my house seems to like me for some reason; they always load me up with extras and undercharge me even though I tip quite well.

                Anyway, the first time I went in, I said "oh, I have a cold, can you make it hot" (it was something like a chicken dopiaza). And knowing the grin that lit up his face, I added "hot for me, that is, not hot for you guys". Well, it wasn't very hot to me, so next time, I said "remember last time? Hotter than that". Eventually, last time was perfect - not uncomfortable, but enough for a mild buzz.

                So I don't know if currys are hotter in this country, or whether it depends on tolerance (no Indian restaurant I've been to has ever rejected my requests for extra heat). And let me be clear, I've been out with 3 others who all ordered a phaal, which tasted like bitter nothing even though the small bit I had wasn't unbearably hot - but the point is, I like to taste my food rather than show off how manly I am.

                Sorry for rambling a bit there.

      2. I think a lot of the misunderstanding here is using the catch-all word 'curry'. There are hundreds - probably thousands of different variations on 'curries' from India to Thailand to Japan to Glasgow. I've had scorchers in Europe Asia and North America and similarly I've had bland curries in all these places too - the trick is knowing what a typical dish from a region will offer in the way of heat - a curry with Vindaloo in the name will often be very hot - and a Kashmiri dish will often be fairly mild - but not always and thank heavens for that.
        There is one dish which Indians call 'curry' - it is the kadhi pakora curry which comes in a yellow yoghurty sauce and is not usually very hot.
        I find its usually best to ask for my curry hot and have some yoghurt and bread on the side to temper it if its too hot - its easier to 'cool it down' than spice it up once its on the plate.
        I generally find Pakistani food to be hotter than Indian while Afghan food is generally much much milder but very delicious. Its all good - so lets eat.

        2 Replies
        1. re: butterchicken2nan

          A fascinating read is "Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors" by Lizzie Collingham explains it all. My copy was purchased in India, and is called "Curry: A Biography".or simply "Curry". I think the difference in title is the European version, and the American version. Many recipes included.

          1. re: butterchicken2nan

            i agree with the spirit of your reply. i think "curry" is used too widely in india that
            this just not a meaningful comment. it's like generalizing about "sausages" or "cakes"
            or "cookies".

            also, indian food isnt a unified entity so the kind of "averaging over all of india"
            you'ld do in a statement like "pakistani food is hotter than indian food" only has
            a weak meaning ... and if you understand the spirit in which to take a comment
            like that, you in a sense already have an idea what the deal is. ok this isnt a
            great analogy maybe but if i were to say "the basketball players at gumby high school
            are taller than the students at pokey high" ... well if you know what basketball is,
            this doesnt really come as a surprise. more specific question like "is the food from
            andhra hotter than the food from lahore' seem silly, although maybe the categories
            are more coherent at least.

            would you say "indian chutnies are generally sweeter/spicer than english chutnies"?

          2. In my experience, "British curries" contain "curry powder". While there are infinite variations of these mixtures and infinite levels of heat, there tends to be a characteristic taste that we call "curried".

            Indian/Pakistani curries (in India, Britain, Canada, or elsewhere) don't taste of "curry powder". There is an incredible depth and breadth to Indian cuisine (North/South; Veg/Non-Veg; Hindu/Muslim) and many "standard" dishes (from mild kormas to hot vindaloos). The spice mixtures are often personal concoctions handed down through generations. But even packaged mixes (I use a brand called Shan) do not have the characteristic "curried" taste.

            9 Replies
            1. re: embee

              What is the origin of British curry? When did it become recognized as a singular style?

              1. re: Chinon00

                "What is the origin of British curry?"

                Two centuries, give or take, of British imperialism in South Asia.

                "When did it become recognized as a singular style?"

                Probably the last quarter of the 19th century - again, give or take. One sees references in British cookbooks even earlier, but not so much offered as a distinctive Anglo-Indian concept.

                The real ubiquity of "curry houses" dates from the the 80s, as far as I've ever been able to tell. When I was in London in '79 as a teenager, they were more likely to beat the crap out of an Indo/Pak immigrant than to eat curry in their restaurants.. (sigh)

                1. re: MikeG

                  Curry is Curry to me... I will take Fish and Chips any day!

                2. re: Chinon00

                  I never realised our curry had a singular style as such, although I suppose all immigrant cuisines adapt to local customer tastes.

                  The earliest curry recipe in Britain dates to Hannah Glasse in the mid-1700s. Throughout the early 75% of the 20th century, there was always the odd Indian restaurant in London - Veeraswamy opened in the 1920s and is still open. Of course, these places had a market with Brits who had worked or served in India (either in the colonial government or, like my father, as soldier during the 2nd World War)

                  However, the spread of "Indian" restaurants came with the main periods of asian immigration in the 1970s. As mentioned elsewhere on the thread, most "Indian" restaurants are actually Bangladeshi owned. Menus tend to be pretty standardised in the vast majority of cases. However, in recent years, there has been a trend for more upmarket places to establish themselves offering individually styled cuisine and distinct menus.

                  The OP asks what is the difference between Indian & British cuisine. I think the answer will lie in Indian cuisine being far more vegetarian and much dryer in texture of the dish (British restaurant "Indian" tends to have a lot of sauce)

                    1. re: MMRuth

                      Interesting recipe - although I have to say I doubt whether many Brits would recognise it as something they'd cook or eat in a restaurant. It's far too sweet with the addition of the sugars & fruit. There's some odd additions that I seem to recall from 25 years back when it was new and strange cuisine for us, that you just wouldnt see nowadays..


                      1. re: Harters

                        I think that makes sense. The recipe is from a friend of mine whose parents were U.S. expats in Asia many years ago ....

                        1. re: MMRuth

                          MMRuth - that curry reminds me on the first 'curry' that I had, in high school, at the home of an engineer who had worked in a number of counties in Asia. It was a yellow, somewhat sweet sauce with meat (probably chicken), served over rice, with a number of condiments (chutney, coconut, raisins, nuts, sieved hard-cooked eggs.

                          Since then I figured out that this was modeled more on an Indonesian dish than an Indian one. An older Joy of Cooking has something like this called 'rice table' or 'rijsttafel'.

                          My introduction to real Indian cooking was via a Penguin paperback, Indian Cookery, by Dharamjit Singh.

                          I just finished reading Monsoon Diary, A memoir with recipes, by Shoba Narayan. Shoba grew up in the Madras area, and first came the USA as a Foreign Fellow at Mount Holyoke. It a nice introduction to food and culture in a south Indian vegetarian Hindu (extended) family.

                          Madhur Jaffrey has her own memoir, Climbing the Mango Trees. Madhur grew up in north India, Delhi, in a family that had a history of working as accountants and finance ministers in the Moghul court and later under the British. Meat and dairy were a bigger part of their diet, though they grew most of their own fruits and vegetables. She was in high school when the Partition occurred. As she describes it, Indian restaurants as we know them, really had their start among the Punjabi refugees in Delhi, who start setup market stalls using their village cooking technology, the tandoor oven. Prior to that middle and upper class Hindus always ate at home. You still see this preference for home cooking in the elaborate system of Tiffen box lunches.

                          1. re: paulj

                            It's actually quite similar to my favorite dish as a child - Shrimp Curry - made by my mother every year for my birthday. I'm pretty sure she used Campbell's cream of mushroom soup as a base, though, now that I think about it, when we lived in Europe, I'm pretty sure she didn't have access to that. I'll have to ask her where her recipe came from. This dish was also served with the condiments you mention. My siblings used to eat just the rice and condiments.

                            Edit: And I may just make this for myself for my birthday next month! I bought a lovely and inexpensive silver serving dish with lots of little compartments that are perfect for the condiments - in some cases I line them with wax paper so as not to stain the silver. I think we also had bacon as a condiment, and some finely chopped onions.

              2. I like curry sauce on my "chips." Yummy!

                1. One of recent Indian cookbooks is titled
                  660 Curries
                  The author, when interviewed on The Splendid Table said one of his favorite categories of curry was potato ones.

                  1. Along with others, I am not sure what British curry means. Do you mean certain popular curry recipes cooked by non-Asian Brits? Do you mean certain popular dishes served in Indian restaurants which are more heavily frequented by non-Asians than Asians?

                    There is some of misinformation above.

                    First, to Adrienne156:That is not true at all about it being Bangladeshi food. The people who own and work in UK Indian restaurants in certain places are heavily Sylheti Bangladeshis, but the food served is the same creamy Punjabi and Mughlai generic food (butter chicken, chicken tikka masala, saag paneer, creamy inauthentic qormas) that you find in the US. It is most definately NOT Bangladeshi food in the vast majority of those restaurants. There are also a lot of Punjabi/Kashmiri Pakistanis (i.e. Balti cuisine---no connection to Baltistan in Pakistan, it is purely a UK phenomenon based on the word balti (bucket) ), as well as Indian Sikhs who own the same types of restaurants in both the UK and US. The US doesn't have the heavy Sylheti population though.

                    Basically, curries at those generic Punjabi -Mughlai restaurants are meant to please the local (non-Asian) public and can be good but aren't truly authentic. Authentic Indian food is highly regional. Even when I say "Punjabi food" that is a misnomer because Punjab spans two countries and is highly regional and has different climates, dialects, and foods from North to South and East to West. In India and Pakistan, the cuisine depends on the region and also caste and ethnic community. One curry does not represent India. The spices used, the medium of liquid, the amount and type of chilies, etc. will depend on region. In dense Asian neighborhoods in the UK you can easily find many regions represented and the intended clientele are immigrants of that region, not indigenous Brits. It is there that you can sample various "curries" (actually Indians and Pakistanis don't really even use that word for what Brits call "curry" in their various languages) and get a real taste of India or Pakistan.


                    It is also not true that Pakistani food is hotter than Indian food. There are certain regions of both India and Pakistan that are known for having "less spicy" food (like Maharashtrian food in India, or Pashtoon food in Pakistan) but once again spicy and less spicy is subjective. Certain regions of South India as well as Sri Lanka use some of the hottest red chilies in the world. You will hardly ever find this type of food available to the US or UK public except occasionally in restaurants of these regions in Asian neighborhoods.

                    13 Replies
                    1. re: luckyfatima

                      In the UK you can also find South Indian food (Goan) and also Persian which is often similar to Indian curry in that they have Birianis.

                      1. re: smartie

                        I don't mean to harp, but...

                        Goans don't classify their food as South Indian. The South Indian states are just further South of Goa: Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala. Goans don't fit here.

                        Persians would surely object to having their food compared to Indian curries...typical Persian fare is hardly spiced and they don't like much garlic. Persian food has influenced Indian food hundreds of years ago, and some dishes, especially true Mughlai dishes share the same root---like biriani. But the cuisines don't have much in common today.

                        And biriani is NOT a curry!

                        We also have all of these types of restaurants in the US.

                        1. re: luckyfatima

                          Indeed, But, funnily enough,, the first "Indian" restaurant on what is now my city's "curry mile" was Persian. Unfortunately it's no longer around, but with new immigration, we are starting to see middle eastern restaurants appearing along the road.


                          1. re: Harters

                            like a few people said - what on earth is British curry? there is no such thing. Sure Indian is the most popular cusine in UK but that does not make it British - it is still Indian, or Bangladeshi or Pakistani... and brits do cook their own versions at home sometimes - but mostly we dont bother - as a takeaway around the cornver (cooked by Indiands, Bandladeshi etc- you get my drift) is miles better and quicker!

                            1. re: twinsmum

                              I think the OP might have been asking if or how our curry differs from what you might get in India. I've never been to India so can't comment from experience but all immigrant cuisines adapt to local circumstances so I'm sure that, over the 30 odd years that "Indian" food has been generally available here, big adaptations have been made; new dishes invented that you don't see in India (like chicken tikka masala) and so on. The food also reflects the origins of many of the early restaurants - the place for the lads to go and eat after the pubs have closed.

                              Does it matter that it's not authentic? Not for one second.

                              Does it matter that it's enjoyable, tasty and accessible food (whether from restaurant, takeaway or cooked at home? Absolutely.

                              Is it a good thing that restaurateurs are now upping the game to get away from the "any protein with any sauce" bog-standard curry house and opening restaurants serving regional dishes, more authentic dishes; more individual dishes? There are now a handful like this in my metropolitian area (as well as the probably hundreds of takeaways and curryhouses). And these are the places where I now go to eat. Bring it on!

                              1. re: Harters

                                I was gonna say that if anything, chicken tikka masala is a British curry being invented here!

                                Anyway. I haven't been as interested in Indian cuisine (recipe/cooking-wise) as others up to this point, but I'd say most people would judge a currys hotness purely on its name. Many menus have an indication of hotness too.

                                what I think the TC meant, is that for the most part, would a vindaloo in India (big place I know) be hotter than the average vindaloo in the UK.

                                While it is hard to generalise, it would be quite natural if curry houses in the UK found that people preferred (and so bought more) hotter curries, and so a home-evolved style of cooking came about that simply included more capsicum alongside other subtle changes.

                                As an analogue, many Chinese restaurants include a Chinese language menu for Chinese customers that include things like phoenix claws - things you'd not really see in more westernised restaurants. That doesn't mean one part is 'British' Chinese, and the other is authentic - you just sell what people are going to eat.

                                1. re: Soop

                                  Reading these messages reminds me of yet another type of curry that makes my mouth water when I think of it - South African Indian curry, which is flavourful rather than spicy. Back in the 1980s there was a small restaurant in central Toronto that served such curry; it was unlike anything we had tasted before - or since, unfortunately, since the place didn't last more than a few years.

                                2. re: Harters

                                  I think there's a chapter in the Black book about curry in Britain - will see if I can dig up anything interesting.

                                  1. re: MMRuth

                                    I'll again give a plug for Madhur Jaffrey's "Ultimate Curry Bible" which gives recipes from many parts of the world and also discusses how "curry" has adapted as it has developed in different countries where Indians have emigrated to.

                                    She even has a few with an American spin (is she now at least part resident in the US?)

                                3. re: twinsmum

                                  Good description of British curry.
                                  Reminds me of the mutation of the traditional recipes for chili con carne and Bolognese sauce in the UK as well as things like texmex in the U.S.
                                  For even more weirdness, Japanese curry is a mutation of British curries and is considered a western dish.

                          2. re: luckyfatima

                            That was indeed my mistake to say that they are serving Bangladeshi food and yes, you are right that they are Bangladeshi owned. I answered this thread some time ago and it looks like from my uncharacteristically abrupt response that I a pretty bad job of it.

                            FYI since we seem to overlap on many threads: my parents are both from Bangladesh, one grew up in Syhlet, the other in Khulna, so I am familiar with the food.

                            And, to PaulJ: the yellow "curry" you had could also have been a korma. I made one not long ago from Camellia Punjabi's book that had a touch of turmeric in it.

                            1. re: adrienne156

                              Curry powders sold in the USA generally have more than a touch of turmeric. Often it is the first or second most abundant ingredient in the mix. I'm refering to the kind that is sold in the general grocery spice section, not a specialized mix such as Patak's brand.

                              1. re: paulj

                                I was referring to your first curry with the "somewhat sweet sauce" in the response to MMRuth.