Impostor #1: Tikka Goes to India


Back in the heyday of the dearly departed Anglo-Japanese food culture magazine Eat, I wrote a regular monthly brief (among other things) identifying dishes that profess a false “nationality.” Herewith, the first entry, on Chicken Tikka Masala, Britain’s national dish:

Globalization has brought fried chicken, pizza and burgers to India, so it should come as no surprise that Chicken Tikka Masala has finally arrived there, too. Those tart chunks of chicken swimming in a fragrant pinkish sauce may be the mainstay of the “curry” that — according to a 1997 Gallup survey — is now the UK’s national cuisine but, like the 80 percent of Britain’s curry houses that are actually run by Bangladeshis, Chicken Tikka Marsala isn’t Indian at all. It originated in one such establishment some time in the late’60s or early ’70s, when an English customer sent an order of chicken tikka back to the kitchen, offended that the marinated, grilled cubes weren’t swimming in sauce. Thinking on his feet, the chef simply drenched them in Campbell’s Cream of Tomato soup, added a dash of fenugreek, and — voila! — a legend. But it’s really no more Indian than Vichyssoise is French.

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