Chicken Tikka Masala: Contentious Origin Stories of British National Dish

June 4, 2021

In 2001, British Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook declared Chicken Tikka Masala - a popular Indian dish - as the ‘National Dish of Britain’. Since then, there have been numerous controversial stories regarding its origin and authentic recipes. Chicken Tikka Masala is a luxurious culinary wonder most restaurants of India and the UK serve hot. The main ingredients of the dish include Chicken, yoghurt, pepper, chilli pepper, butter and ginger.

Origin of Chicken Tikka Masala

The origin of chicken tikka masala is still a subject of great contention for many people, just like many other things. A handful of people believe that the roots of the dish belong to India, while some vaguely state that it originated in Britain.

Rahul Verma who is an acclaimed food critic has stated in his testimony that the dish originated from Punjab in 1971. He states that the dish is more than forty to fifty years old and that it might be an accidental discovery that later had many periodical improvisations.

The Glasgow Story of Origin

Another convincing claim that got popular is that the dish was invented in Glasgow, Scotland by Bangladesh Chef Ali Ahmed Aslam. He added a tomato-cream sauce to the chicken tikka dish he prepared to impress a customer. Before doing the improvisation, the dish was made of boneless chicken marinated in some amount of yoghurt and curry spices and it was served on a skewer similar to how kebabs are served.

A bus driver who came back from his shift one fine night ordered a chicken curry from the restaurant where Chef Ali worked. The driver then told the waiter that the curry is dry, and this feedback made Ali add some tomato cream sauce and spices to improvise it. They sent the curry to his customer’s table after improvisation and he loved it. The restaurant then put the dish on the menu of the restaurant and the driver and his friends started to visit the place to have the dish again and again. Today, Glaswegians wear the badge of honour for inventing Britain’s national dish on their sleeves.

Chicken tikka's closest cousin is a popular dish in North India called butter chicken. Both these dishes have a lot of similarities including the method of creation and appearance. The major difference is that many places serve chicken tikka masala with tomato gravy rather than a non-gravy sauce. A few culinary experts have called Chicken Tikka masala the first example of fusion cuisine.

To put it simply, it is an Indian dish with a more sweeter masala sauce to satisfy the Brits taste to have chicken with gravy.

Where is Chicken Tikka Masala Popular?

Most restaurants in India, UK, and North America serve the dish. It remains the second most popular foreign dish to cook according to a survey conducted in 2012. It is now the national dish of Britain just because of the way Britain absorbs and adapts external culinary influences. Britishers usually like to have meat served in gravy. Therefore the improvisation was more than enough to satisfy their habit and taste buds. This is why the dish is so much loved in Britain that they finally declared it as their national dish.

Preparation of Chicken Tikka Masala

The dish comprises chicken tikka, which are chunks of boneless chicken. Chefs marinate it with yoghurt and curry spices inside an oven. They serve creamy sauce along with it. You can also see restaurants and chefs serving tomato and coriander sauce along as there is no standard recipe. Mostly they serve a type of sauce made using tomato puree, coconut cream, cream, and a mix of masala spice. The dish will be orange in colour as many prefer to use paprika, turmeric, and other food dyes.

Some types of dish preparation include roasting the chicken in a cylindrical clay oven after marinating it with yoghurt and Indian spices. People also roast them on a spit over hot coals. They also brush the chicken pieces with clarified butter or ghee to improve their taste.

Many restaurants in India usually serve the dish with butter naan and basmati rice. The gravy part of the dish is a little sweet, creamy, tangy and buttery. This makes for a great combination with pieces of smoky roasted chicken.

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