a brief history of curry in the uk
In 1970 there were about 1,200 Indian restaurants in the UK. Today there are almost 10,000
Indian restaurants first appeared in England in the 19th century, catering for Asian seamen and students, and then multiplied in the 1950s and 60s to feed the newly arrived south Asian factory workers. But their boom time only began in the 70s, when they adapted their menus for a working-class, white clientele. By 1982, there were 3,500 Indian restaurants in Britain and 'going for a curry' became an established and popular evening out. Today Bangladeshis run 85-90% of the Indian restaurants in the UK, most of which still rely on tried and tested Anglicised favourites such as vindaloo or tikka masala. Much of the output of these restaurants, whilst tasty, is neither authentic or traditional Indian food.
Eyeing the popularity of Indian food, mainstream operators from pubs to schools to B&I catering have been quick to add 'curries' to their menus, drawing inspiration from the most popular dishes on a typical Indian restaurant menu. What they may not match in authentic flavour or 'Indian restaurant experience' they have made up for in competitive pricing and the advantage that diners in a party who might not fancy Indian food can choose something else from a varied menu. Rather than attempting to 'move Indian food on' from the traditional Indian restaurant offering, mainstream operators on the whole have chosen to replicate the model within their own formats, often using ready-prepared products to deliver it. So there has been a recycling of existing ideas rather than any real innovation.
But things are starting to change...
After years of consistent growth and a consistent format, things are changing in the Indian restaurant world: the trend of steady growth may be faltering, or even reversing. The ritual of the Indian restaurant experience (poppadoms, warming trays, hot towels etc), once uniquely exotic and exciting for UK diners, now faces fierce and diverse competition. The market is diversifying and a new wave of Indian eateries, with a different approach and different food offerings is getting noticed and gaining momentum.