I have very little doubt that Indian cuisine is one of the world’s greatest cuisines with its perfect blend of flavours and cooking techniques that range from the wonders of dum to the smoky brilliance of the tandoor and a whole lot more in between. The sheer variety of genres on offer across the country’s length and breadth sort of invalidates the term ‘Indian cuisine’ with each region giving us treats more exotic than the other.
No wonder then, that the Brits — on leaving India after Independence came into being in 1947 — have co-opted several India-inspired dishes into the folds of their rather boring cuisine to come up with dishes that are delicious hybrids that have now gone on to define modern British cuisine.
Here are four such examples:
This low-on-spice British interpretation of Indian achar is a sort of relish made up of chopped pickled vegetables and spices, particularly cauliflower, onion, and gherkin—and seasonings of mustard and turmeric. And like in the various Indian achars, in Britain too regional recipes of piccalilli vary considerably.
The Oxford English Dictionary traces the word to the middle of the 18th century when, in 1758, a certain Hannah Glasse described how “to make Paco-Lilla, or India Pickle”. An apparently earlier reference is in Anne Blencowe’s Receipt Book, written in 1694, which has “To Pickle Lila, an Indian Pickle” credited to Lord Kilmory. Today, piccalilli is best had as part of a traditional Brit working meal called a ploughman’s lunch.
Though it shares its name with an Indian dish, the British version of jalfrezi is a concoction all of its own. It consists of a main ingredient such as meat, fish, paneer or vegetables, stir-fried and served in a thick spicy sauce that includes green capsicum along with onions and tomatoes. The recipe for it first appeared in cookbooks of the British India as a way of using up leftovers by frying them with chilli and onion.
This English language usage derived from the colloquial Bengali word jhal porhezi: in Bengali, jhal (not to be confused with jhol or water!) means spicy, while porhezi comes from the Persian word, parhezi means suitable for a diet. Today, there is probably not a single curry house in all of Britain that doesn’t serve an iteration of jalfrezi.
We can easily see the underpinnings of this spice-redolent soup in the South Indian rasam. The tongue-twister of a name originates from the Tamil words for pepper (miḷagu), and water (tanni). Due to its popularity in England during British India, it was one of the few items of India that found common mention in the literature of the period. Recipes for mulligatawny varied greatly over the years. Later versions included British modifications that included meat, though the local Tamil recipe on which it was based did not.
Once again, like the others on this list, Kedgeree too has been adapted from a local Indian dish. This time from the ultra-popular comfort food and convalescence favourite preparation of khichdi! This dish moved to Victorian Britain and changed dramatically. The Brit take on the dish is one that is made up of cooked, flaked fish (traditionally smoked haddock), boiled rice, parsley, hard-boiled eggs, curry powder, butter or cream, and occasionally sultanas.
The dish can be eaten hot or cold. Other fish can be used instead of haddock such as tuna or salmon, though that is not traditional. It is believed to have been popularised by returning British colonials who had enjoyed it in India and introduced it to the UK as a breakfast dish in Victorian times, part of the then fashionable Anglo-Indian cuisine.