Monisha Bharadwaj On The UK’s Love Affair With Curry

Monisha Bharadwaj

Monisha Bharadwaj dons many hats. She runs a cooking school in London, is a food historian, author of several books on cooking and a TV show host. She speaks to SheThePeople.TV about how the British came to love curry, what it takes to be a great chef and about her latest book ‘The Indian Cookery Course’.

How did your journey start first with cooking, and then with writing?

I trained in Hotel Management in Mumbai, and moved to England soon after. In London, I worked at the Bombay Brasserie. While working there, I met my literary agent, and through her, my publisher. They commissioned my first book, ‘The Indian Kitchen’, which went on to win several awards. I was then commissioned to write my second book. From the books, there came TV and my cookery school. Since I studied history, I also give lectures on food history.

You had a talk on how the British fell in love with curry and you run a cooking school in London — can you shed some light on the culture of Indian food in the UK?

Today, everyone considers curry a national dish in the UK. It started with the East India Company as returning officers and wives took back recipes from India. However, the right ingredients and tools were not available, and so the British used substitutes and British cooking techniques to cook Indian dishes. For example, they used apples instead of raw mangoes.

As time went on, more Indians came to the UK, started their own restaurants. Bengali boatmen, who were taken back by the British, started working in the fish and chip shops. This is where they started cooking curry, which white men discovered was a good meal to have after a few beers, given that curry was spicy.

White men discovered that curry was a good meal to have after a few beers, given that it was spicy

Queen Victoria also had a lot of Indian servants. When the British exhibition at Wembley opened [in 1924], the Indian restaurant — Veeraswamy’ — became very popular. It survives till today and is Britain’s oldest surviving restaurant.  

What would you want readers to take away from your latest book, ‘The Indian Cookery Course’?

That India and Indian food is so diverse, it has got its roots in many different aspects in different regions. I want readers to understand that good home Indian cooking is easy to do and focuses on good health.

What new food trends do you think are here to stay? As a food historian, how does food evolve over time?

In Britain, cooking at home is a huge trend. I believe the British are cooking curry at home once a week as ingredients have become easily available.

And in India, people are so found of eating out. But I always feel like the time you save in eating out, is the time you will spend looking after your health because of not eating healthy. People have got used to eating things that are unseasonal. One can keep it simple by using locally sourced ingredients, which are in season and which are fair trade.

Over time, more people will understand the health concept and will eat in moderation.

What qualities does a successful chef have?

Physical stamina is an important quality as chefs have to spend a lot of time working in hot kitchens and small spaces. The physical demands of the job are many.

A successful chef will be good at teamwork, and of course have knowledge and skill. He or she will have a wish to keep learning and to keep being inspired

What is the one cooking tip or ingredient you can’t live without? 

Turmeric — It is the super spice since it has antioxidants, is inflammatory. It is a wonder spice. I have been having turmeric tea for many years and it has kept my immunity high. Everyone should have turmeric every day.

Also Read: An Interview with the star chef: Madhumita Mohanta