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In Britain curry is regarded as a national dish. But according to one of the UK’s brightest Indian chefs, Aktar Islam, the Indian food offering in Britain just isn’t good enough
Indian food is loved the world over, yet nowhere has embraced it more heartily than Britain. Curry is now regarded as a national dish. But according to one of the UK’s brightest Indian chefs, the Indian food offering in Britain just isn’t good enough.
Chef Aktar Islam caused controversy when he criticised the British curry in a national newspaper. He bemoaned the poor ingredients, high fat content and artificial colourings of British-Indian dishes like chicken tikka masala, and even hit out out at the balti, the dish invented in his hometown of Birmingham.
But while some saw his comments as provocative, Islam remains defiant: Indian food in Britain could and should be much better. «We all think we know what Indian food is but that’s British curry,» says Islam. «Take the chicken tikka masala. They use much higher than the government recommended limit for concentrated food colouring. Intense red colour - it can’t be right can it?»
«The majority of real Indian places use Kashmiri chilli, which has got a lovely bright colour; beetroot juice, turmeric - natural things to colour food. Real Indian food is very different. It’s sophisticated, and it can kick it alongside modern European and British food.»
It’s a clear message, but it isn’t just directed at high-end establishments. At Lasan Eatery, Lasan’s sister restaurant in Birmingham, Islam aims to offer authentic Indian cafeteria food without using mass-produced pastes and additives.
«We’ve proven you can take simple ingredients, cook them to a high standard, sell it at a price that’s accessible for everyone and make a profitable business out of it,» says Islam. «What we’re trying to say to mainstream curry restaurants is, we’ve done what we’ve done for 30 years, it’s time to start moving forward now.»