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Great Indian Food in England
"Going for an Indian" or "going for a curry"—the two are synonymous—is part of English life. On any self-respecting town's main street there's at least one Indian restaurant or take-out place, from inexpensive to high-end.
British trade with, and subsequent rule over, India for the two centuries before 1947 has ensured an enduring national appetite for spices. The town of Cheltenham used to be known as an Anglo-Indian paradise since so many "curry-eating colonels" used to retire there. Immigration from Pakistan and Bangladesh in the mid-20th century led to a concentration of restaurants in Birmingham, Manchester, and London. Today you can also find South Indian, Nepalese, and Sri Lankan establishments. The exotic mix of herbs and spices gives Indian food its distinctive appeal. Typically, ginger, garlic, cilantro, cumin, cardamom, fenugreek and cayenne enhance fresh vegetables and meat (chicken or lamb), fish, or cheese (paneer). Fresh cilantro is a common garnish. But it's the addition of chilis that makes things hot: feel free to ask advice when ordering.
Starters include lime pickle, mango chutney, and raita (diced cucumber in minty yogurt), all scooped up with pappadams (crispy, thin, fried tortilla-like disks made from chickpea flour). For the main course, there's plain or pilaf Basmati rice, naan bread from the tandoor, or chapatis (flat bread). Side dishes include onion or eggplant bhajis (spiced fritters), and sag aloo (potato with spinach). Try Indian beer, too.
Curry is a general term for dishes with a hot, spicy sauce. The strength of each dish is given in italics after the description.
Literally meaning "bucket," a balti dish is a popular Birmingham invention dating to the 1970s. Different combinations of meat, spices, and vegetables are stir-fried and served at the table in a small wok with handles. Naan bread or chapatis are accompaniments. Mild to Medium.
Made with stir-fried chicken or lamb, almonds, and golden raisins, this rice-based dish has a dry texture. It can be served with a vegetable curry. Medium.
Meat or prawns are combined with a thick sweet-and-sour sauce and a red or yellow dal (lentil stew) in a dish that originated in Persia. Medium to hot.
The name means two or double onions, so expect lots of onions, mixed with green bell peppers. The sauce is reduced, producing concentrated flavors. Medium hot.
This dish derived from British rule in India, when the Indian cook would heat up leftover cold roast meat and potatoes. Fresh meat is cooked with green bell peppers, onions, and plenty of green chilis in a little sauce. Hot.
Mild and sweet, this curry is very popular. Chicken or lamb is braised in a creamy or yogurt-based sauce to which almonds and coconut are added. Mild.
Traditionally made with lamb and marinated in yogurt and spices, pasanda is less sweet than a korma. An almond taste prevails in a thick sauce enhanced with cilantro, cardamom pods, and tomatoes. Almond flakes are used as a garnish. Mild.
A staple dish, rogan josh is quite highly spiced. Its deep red color originally came from dried red Kashmiri chilis, but now red bell peppers and tomatoes are used. Medium hot.
Chicken pieces are marinated in a yogurt and spice paste, and then cooked in a tandoor (barrel-shape clay oven). The red color comes from cayenne pepper, chili powder, or food coloring. It's served dry with slices of lemon or lime, naan bread, and salad. Mild.
Chicken Tikka Masala
A British-Bangladeshi invention, this is reputedly the nation's favorite dish. Boneless chunks of chicken breast are marinated in yogurt and garam masala (dry-roasted spices), threaded on a skewer, and cooked in a tandoor. The accompanying creamy, tomato-based sauce is either orange-red from turmeric and paprika, or deep red from food coloring. Mild.
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