The Controversial History Of Chicken Tikka Masala

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Saying Indians have no sense of humour and can create outrage over some of the simplest and most insignificant things would not be that much of an overstatement. But there are two topics that it’s just better to steer clear of when it comes to our rather not-so-thick skinreligion, and for some even more important, food.

Some of us didn’t take it well when Robin Cook, Britain’s Foreign Secretary at the time, named Chicken Tikka Masala (CTM) the ‘British national dish’ in 2001, saying, “not only because it is the most popular, but because it is a perfect illustration of the way Britain absorbs and adapts external influences.” Mohammad Sarwar, then-Labour MP for Glasgow Central, on the other hand, stated he wanted the city to be given EU Protected Designation of Origin Status for CTM, back in 2009. He said, “Glasgow’s contribution to popular cuisine deserves to be more widely recognised ... Tikka Masala is perhaps one of the earliest examples of the modern fashion for ‘fusion’ cuisine.’”

While it’s definitely debatable, this is probably one of the many things they took back (a.k.a stole [see – Kohinoor]) from their colonies, and a contentious matter post-Brexit, Indian’s weren’t happy when an Indian dish was being claimed as another’s in origin. But is CTM an Indian creation or British?

Cook’s speech triggered a debate that hasn’t really come to fruition. Digging through our food history archives, numerous theories emerge, each as contentious as the other, as each nation tries to lay their state identifying brand on it. With the two nation’s imperial history, its has become messier and messier over the years.

The lore regarding the creation of the roasted chicken chunks in spicy, creamy sauce takes us back to a Scot wandering into an Indian food joint, Shish Mahal, in the 1970’s and ordering himself some Chicken Tikka. He returned the dish stating it was too dry for his palate. Huffing and puffing the chef, Ali Ahmed Aslam from Bangladesh, dumped a can of Campbell’s tomato soup, mixed in spices and herbs, and a dollop of yoghurt, and voila! Thus, created the first CTM dish, a fusion of South Asian cuisine altered to suit the tastes of the United Kingdom.

Well, so they’d like to believe. Truth be told, this was a urban myth that British food historian and South Asian cuisine specialist Peter Grove said he started, along with Iqbal Wahhab, of Roast Restaurant. “Yet somehow it has become accepted as the official explanation the world over… The reason Wahhab and I created the CTM myth was because we were continually being asked by journalists from all over the world just what CTM was and they did not seem happy with the truth,”he tells Mark Hay.

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