National Curry Week: An appetite for spice

Most of us hardly need to be encouraged to indulge in a tikka, jalfrezi or Thai green curry but if an excuse were needed, we’ve found one – it’s National Curry Week.
Running from 9-15 October, National Curry Week celebrates its 20th year of championing curry whilst raising money for poverty-focused charities across the South Asian continent and worldwide.

The British love affair with curry goes back a long way, with an English recipe entitled ‘To make a curry the India way’ discovered in a book called Art of Cookery, back in 1747.
Since then, its popularity has grown to become a national dish. Chicken Tikka Masala and Jalfrezi regularly top polls of Brits’ favourite foods. What’s more, over 70,000 staff are employed by more than 9,000 Indian curry restaurants in the UK; in fact, in London there is a greater number of Indian Restaurants than there are in Bombay and Delhi combined.
Two thirds of all meals out in the UK are Indian food, it’s an industry worth £3.2 billion a year.

As curry has become more and more a part of British culture, so has the demand for more authentic flavours, and a step away from from the more Anglicised versions of Indian cuisine. Indian chefs in Britain are embracing British produce but fusing with the real, rich flavours of the sub-continent.

Curry has come a long way since being the final destination staggered into on a drunken night out. Some of the world’s best restaurant are taking Indian food to a new level. This year, The Michelin Guide 2018 saw two new Indian restaurants in London – Jamavar, and the re-opened Vineet Bhatia – receive prized Michelin stars. Meanwhile flavours such as garlic, ginger, turmeric and onion have permeated into everyday menus nationwide.

Of course, a good curry doesn’t need to blow your socks off. It’s about choosing the perfect combination of complementary flavours, fiery chillies are entirely optional.
Cyrus Todiwala OBE, chef patron of Spice Namaste, is known for combining flavours, spices and ingredients in unusual ways. He loves mixing Western dishes with Indian flavourings to create recipes that make innovative use of spices. Cyrus says the perfect curry should use seasonal, local produce. He is a proponent of using British seasonal vegetables and encourages experimenting with cabbage, pumpkin and even Brussel sprouts. “The awareness of the health benefits and nutritional value of good, well sourced and well-prepared Indian food has grown wildly recently. For example, turmeric is now magical word, but it has always been widely in Indian cooking. I expect that National Curry Week will draw further attention to the intrinsic goodness of Indian spices.” comments Cyrus.

Suree Coates, of King and Thai, in Shropshire, is also a firm believer that quality ingredients are key and prides herself on creating a fresh and delicious Thai curry.
She says: “Customers often ask me what is ‘the secret’ to a good Thai curry or Pad Thai. Thai food is essentially peasant and street food, and using good quality fresh ingredients, and some simple tips, you can’t go wrong.”

“Thai food is much fresher in flavour with no powders, but more grinding and blending of roots, fresh spices and herbs. It’s very healthy and has many medicinal properties. Many of my herbs come from my own restaurant garden – so if I can encourage people to grow their own, buy good quality fish, great steaks and enhance them with Thai flavours .”

Food writer and cook the Urban Rajah (aka Ivor Peters) loves to travel and is rarely happier than when he’s fusing seasonal British ingredients with fine spices and rich flavours from the sub-continent. He urges curry fans to experiment with their menus and to sample new dishes at Indian restaurants – often specialities from different regions.
He says: “Curry has become an integral part of our staple diet but few of us are aware of what ‘authentic’ means when it comes to Britain’s favourite food. Abandon your usual tikka masala, rogan josh or jalfrezi and pick a few dishes overlooked by the masses such as haleem (hearty lamb broth), methi chicken (fenugreek chicken) and baingan ki burtha (smoky aubergine).”

National Curry Week is the ideal time to take your tastebuds on an Asian adventure.

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Seasonal Veg Thali Cyrus Todiwala