The heritage of curry in Britain is a long and contested one, with one specific account claiming that the Chicken Tikka Masala, now a national heritage dish, was created ‘on a typical dark, wet Glasgow night’ – see The 5th of April 2013 Episode of The Hairy Bikers: Best of British Series. While this particular origin story dates back to 1971, Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi spices had been known to the U.K. for centuries, stemming from the dark years of British colonialism, and later through the vast web of the East India Company.
While this brutal period of history arguably stained the European Age of Discovery, it did also provide the heat that we might associate with pan-Asian food, as the trading nations of the west took chilli to the east, keeping a little for themselves on route, and thus providing all the ingredients for that dark, fateful night in Glasgow.
Now, curry is eaten by roughly 23 million people each week, has its own National Awareness program that runs from the 9th-15th of October each year, and has been adopted by the UK as a “national dish”.
While I was unaware of all of these things as I wandered around on a dark, wet night in Salford with some friends, I am nonetheless partial to a belly-warming, tongue-tickling taste of… erm, Britain. I had seen a “Curry Night at The Egerton Arms, Salford” sign at The Islington Mill earlier in the day, and so in want of warmth in our bones and food in our bellies, we made our way to the little pub just opposite Salford Central train station.
Upon arrival I was made to go and ask the chef in the kitchen if they were still serving food, and was greeted by a woman and her son, who told me that they only had the chicken left, with the son, who seemed to act as the pub’s walking mealtime salesman, chirping in: “It’s masala. Dead spicy. You’ll love it”. I’m a fairly impressionable customer at the best of times, and when the salesperson is an 8-year old boy working nights, I’m quickly sold.
With a pint of Wobbly Bob’s in hand, we found a corner that wasn’t occupied by elderly United fans revelling in their thrashing of CSKA Moscow and waited for our masalas, rice, and poppadoms to arrive.
Her son briefly made an appearance behind her wearing a single blue kitchen glove, turning to look up at the screen, shout penalty, shake his head in vague disappointment, and return inside. The word ‘Masala’ originates from the Urdu word for spice, and The Egerton’s take on the national dish certainly had something to it, with vague hints of the cardamon, ginger, cumin, and coriander that our ancestors fought hard to steal.
The poppadum was a naan bread, and the chips came with rice. Ultimately, had it been in a restaurant, I may have sent it back. On rare occasions, however, I feel taken in by the setting of a meal, and the people that make it and begin to totally forget that my main reason for being there was to eat in the first place. The food became an accompaniment to CSKA’s lacklustre performance, the 4 for £5 ‘house shots’, and the pint of Wobbly Bob’s and Holts beer loyalty cards being passed over the bar.
It was an ok meal, but a fine time on an evening reminiscent of that night in Glasgow in 1971.