Whoever thought that the venerable British icon, the chicken tikka masala, is merely over-the-top stuff served to spice up the bland English tastebuds is wrong. You need much more than culinary skills to prepare spice-soaked fried chicken pieces floating in a pool of red masala curry. In fact, more than the ingredients, you seem to need a subtle cultural sensitivity that goes well with today’s multi-culti-balti cuisine Britain.
Chicken tikka masala is now the bone — or should we say the meat? — of contention between the British government and the 40,000-odd ‘Indian’ restaurant-owners in London. The British government has put strict restrictions on the import of chefs from India and Bangladesh and want people from European Union countries like Poland and Bulgaria to learn the intricate details of cooking chicken tikka masala and tarka dal. Goulash time is over; it’s tikka or bust for London’s Eastern European diaspora. But the owners of ‘Indian’ eateries — the single quotes signifying that Bangladeshis are happily willing to take up the identity of Indians when it comes to holding on to their space in the F&B industry — insist that the cultural imperatives of cooking chicken tikka masala et al will be lost on the European immigrants who are waiting to take over British kitchens.
Now pardon our lack of sanctimoniousness, but from when was chicken tikka masala ever an Indian dish? It is even less ‘Indian’ than Indian Chinese food is ‘Chinese’. So let’s not get all ‘Benedict Anderson’ and ‘theory of nationalism’, about it shall we? At the end of the day, if the dish tastes good with that lager, well, that’s all that matters. Regardless of whether it’s a Patel or a Rehman or a Bukowski who’s rustling it up.