HAVE you ever wondered what makes a Madras different from a Kashmiri curry? How the Dopiaza got its name, and just where Scarborough’s Indian restaurant dishes actually come from?
In celebration of National Curry Week, I visited Scarborough Tandoori in St Thomas Street to discover the background of some spicy favourites, sample the different flavours, and find out from other local restaurants what makes their dishes different from the rest.
Asia is the home of the curry, but if you ask for a Tikka Masala on a visit to India, you’ll be met by a blank stare.
While there are differing stories as to its exact origin, most tellers agree that the dish was created in the UK to cater for European tastes.
But as spices have become more readily available in this country, chefs have used their creativity to give an authentic taste of dishes from their home region, be it Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, North or South India.
Scarborough Tandoori owner Alkas Ali said that generally, the majority of Indian restaurant workers in the area, like himself, hail from Bangladesh.
Once part of India, the country’s regional dishes are closely linked and share influences which make up today’s modern menu.
He said: “Indian people are great travellers, a lot of time dishes are named after areas they are influenced from in India, how it is cooked or the largest quantity of ingredients in it.
“Madras, for example, now Chennai, is a South Indian cuisine; it’s fairly hot, tangy and uses lemon grass or lemon juice.
“When it was brought to UK mainland, in honour of its origin, the chefs named it after the region.”
While the Korma is fairly universal in its mild taste, restaurants are keen to make their mark with distinct curries from across the continent.
Scarborough Tandoori’s Ceylonese dishes were researched by Alkas who visited the spice gardens of Sri Lanka to learn more about cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and other spices.
I tried the chicken Ceylon which tasted fairly hot but is toned down with a sweet, rich flavour coming through from the coconut milk.
The restaurant special, the Haandi Bhuna, is the chef’s signature dish based on a recipe from his home town of Sylhet, Bangladesh.
Alkas added: “With the Haandi Bhuna, the chef said he wanted to cook something similar to what he would do back home. Young chefs can now create dishes that are closer to home because they’re able to get fresh spices.
“The main ingredients we use are fresh ginger, garlic, chilli, coriander, curry leaf and methi leaf as a base for our curries.”
This signature creation translates to ‘one pot’, derived from the manner in which it is cooked allowing the spices to infuse and the idea being that it can easily be shared among families at meals and large gatherings.
It takes up to two hours to cook, so after the chef has laboured over this for the evening service, once it’s gone, it’s gone.
Another dish we sampled was Kashmiri chicken, characterised by sweet flavours using almonds, cherries, a coconut-based sauce and exotic fruits. The dish is based on cuisine associated with Kashmir, from the northwestern region of the Indian subcontinent, and is similar to a Korma, proving popular for those who like milder tastes.
The newly opened Curry Leaf in Pavilion Terrace takes its name from the main and common ingredient linking Sri Lankan and South Indian flavours.
The Sri Lankan chefs’ cuisine is made up from different spices and will contribute to more of your five-a-day, according to proprietor Roshan Ratnayaka.
He said: “Our food differs from North Indian food because it is very aromatic and traditionally we use lots of vegetarian dishes in our cooking.
“We use fresh curry leaves, mustard seeds, cumin seeds, fennel and we use the proper, fresh cinnamon from Sri Lanka.
“Everything is authentically home-made and a lot of the food is used from curry powder. We use a home-made five-spice curry powder for the main ingredient.”
In Castle Road, Tikka Tikka’s own house blend of Garam Masala is the base for most of its dishes, giving it that “Tikka Tikka taste.”
The mild flavour of its curries makes the most of yoghurt and cream to cater for the English market. But depending on individual preference, the Bangladeshi chefs could cook up a traditional, spicy dish reminiscent of home, if you ask the waiter when you place your order.
Manager Kamal Hossain said: “Our curries are from the Indian subcontinent. We use a home-made mix of red pepper, coriander powder, cumin, turmeric, chill powder and cinnamon in our garam masala which makes the difference.
“In India and Pakistan people would usually have some yoghurt on the side of their dish, it would not normally be cooked in it.
“But if anyone likes it in the true home-cooked style, we use more of the spice, fresh chillies, fresh coriander and no yoghurt, to give the real flavour of Bangladesh.”
Now in its 14th year, National Curry Week celebrates over 200 years of Indian restaurants
in the UK.
Whether you’re a die-hard korma fan, or if you like to turn up the heat, the diversity of the cuisine in Britain is vast and in Scarborough alone, even similar style dishes will differ between establishments, so don’t be afraid to try new things and spice it up.