20 Surprising Things You Never Knew About British Curry History

Posted on 27th January 2016

There are over 9,000 Indian restaurants in the UK today, and Chakra is just one of them. We Brits love a curry – many of us consider it as a national dish – but when did our love affair with all things spicy start? Here are a few surprising facts about how this British favourite came to be.

1. The word “curry” used to mean all hot food. The word “cury”, used in the 14th century, came from the French “cuire” meaning to cook.

2. Another theory behind the origin of the word “curry” is that it comes from “kari”, Tamil for sauce.

3. Curry became particularly fashionable in the 19th century, thanks to the rise of the British Empire. Queen Victoria, who was known as Empress of India, had Indian staff who prepared Indian food for her.

4. It is believed that Eastern spices were first brought to Britain as early as the 12th century by men returning from the Crusades.

5. Indian cuisine became more widely available in the 17th century, when The East India Trading Company was set up for Britain to trade goods with India. British influence in India grew, leading to Company rule in India being established towards the end of the century.

6. Indian entrepreneur Dean Mahomet opened the first Indian restaurant in Britain in 1809, the Hindostanee Coffee House.

7. William Thackeray, who was born in Calcutta, wrote a ‘Poem to Curry’, and included a scene in Vanity Fair where his anti-heroine Becky Sharp tastes a goat curry for the first time.

8. Peppercorns were once so prized that they were known as ‘black gold’.

9. Early curries in Britain were very mild, using coriander seeds, peppercorns, and lemon juice.

10. Curry powder became commercially available in 1780. 

11. After the Second World War, a number of Indian sailors jumped ship at major ports including London. Many of them opened cafes, serving curry and rice alongside fish and chips. They stayed open late, starting the Great British tradition of the post-pub curry.

12. Following the Bangladesh War of Independence in 1971, there was an influx of Bengali refugees, particularly to the East End of London. Their work helped to establish the modern British curry house.

13. Today, around 70% of Indian restaurants in Britain are owned by Bangladeshis.

14. Worcestershire sauce is rumoured to be the result of a 19th century attempt at making curry.

15. Over 45% of Indian restaurants are still located in London and the South East.

16. Piccalilli is an early English attempt at Indian pickle.

17. Mrs Beeton’s famous Book of Household Management includes fourteen curry recipes.

18. The Veeraswamy, which opened in 1926 in Regent Street, is the oldest surviving Indian restaurant in the UK.

19. The first curry recipe written in English was published in 1747.

20. Traces of curry found in a cooking pot west of Delhi that dates back 4,000 years suggests that curry may be the oldest continuously prepared cuisine in human history.

If you love a curry, then look no further than Chakra! We are closed at the moment, but we expect to re-open in our new premises in mid-February. In the meantime, we will still be available on 020 7229 2115 for any queries and future bookings – and our catering and wedding services are continuing as normal.

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