Alex wrote :
I am wondering about the authenticity of restaurant curries. I have
eaten many curries in the UK and cooked a few from recipes on your
Recently I was on holiday with my wife in Rouen, Normandy, and we
found what looked like an authentic Indian restaurant. I ordered a
vindaloo and was surprised to find that, although the meal was
beautifully aromatic, there was no heat. A vindaloo with no heat?
Talking with the waiter, he said that Indian restaurants change their
recipes according to the country that they are in. I asked about
curries in India and he said that it was entirely different. He said
that food was cooked at home from fresh ingredients and couldn't be
compared to the "batch method" used in Western Europe.
What was he talking about?
Before you ask "is this meal authentic?" first you have to
decide authentic to what?. That's the tricky
If you asked most English curry fans whether the curry in front of
them was authentic they would probably make their judgement using
restaurant curries as their yardstick.
But if you asked a British Asian the same question their reply is
likely to be based on their family's home cooking.
Many British Asians would, I think, consider standard curry house
fare to be at best Anglicised and at worst a travesty of the original
dishes on which they are based. The well known Indian chef, Cyrus
Todiwala, remarks in his excellent book Café Spice Namaste
that the traditional Parsee dhansak has been "grossly abused by
restaurants in the UK".
Many English people would find home-style Asian cooking quite
unfamiliar. That's because, for most of us, our idea of an authentic
Indian meal is based upon our experiences in "Indian"
restaurants (which, just to confound our expectations even further,
are mainly run by Bangladeshis). Listen to what restaurateur Iqbal
Wahhab has to say "At the end of a night in an Indian restaurant,
the boys sit down to their own meal. The staff curry is brought out
...... [and] it's like nothing on the menu they serve their customers".
Yet there is a new and welcome trend in Asian restaurants. These
new-wave restaurants aspire to be not the familiar curry houses but
Bengali restaurants or Punjabi
restaurants or other restaurants serving regional cuisine from the
Asian sub-continent. So we are now getting restaurant specialities
that could certainly be described as authentic.
Of course, even the more upmarket restaurants serving regional cuisine
have to adapt their cooking for mass catering. They cannot cook in
home-style quantities. They have to prepare stock sauces in advance.
They have to pre-cook meat that needs long, slow cooking. So even
here a traditional recipe will be changed according to the needs of
a restaurant to serve its customers quickly and efficiently. That's
what the waiter meant by "batch" cooking.
Your experience of the vindaloo with no heat is a clear case of the
restaurant adapting its cooking to the expectation and tastes of its
customers. The curry house has been a feature of the British high
street for 40 odd years. Curries have been cooked in British homes
(using good old Madras curry powder but unrecognisable to the average
Indian) since the days of the British Empire in India. Curry houses
in France or the USA are a fairly new phenomenon. The menu is
relatively unfamiliar so the curries have been tailored to suit the
But, in the end, does it spoil your enjoyment if the dhansak in your
local curry house is not made in the traditional Parsee style? The
dhansak I was served last week in my local Tandoori was astonishingly
good but probably not authentic. A traditional dhansak from the Café
Spice Namaste would, I am sure, be a delight and a whole new
experience. So why worry about authenticity? Enjoy both!
© David W Smith, 2002
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