Rebellion

  • Solaris
  • Abaddon Books
Solaris Abaddon

HOW THE BRITISH CHOSE CURRY FOR THE THEIR NATIONAL DISH BY GEORGINA KAMSIKA

1 year ago

"Chicken tikka masala is now a true British national dish, not only because it is the most popular, but because it is a perfect illustration of the way Britain absorbs and adapts external influences."

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook on the benefits of multiculturalism.

When Not So Stories editor David Moore told me the premise for the anthology, I knew right away I wanted to be involved. Like many people, I’d grown up with Kipling, and I was excited at the chance to contribute to the fantastic premise. I even had an idea--how Britain has been modified to its current form by interactions with the Indian subcontinent.

Or in more of a Not So stories kind of way - How the Empire might have colonised India and how India has influenced Britain right back.

And the most obvious influence is the food. Curries of various types are consumed by millions every day. Restaurants in have adopted a number of Indian terms to identify popular dishes, although only the name derives from the traditional dish, not the recipe. Once the infamously mild korma was the most popular dish, but over time people’s palettes have grown and jalfrezi, madras, even a bhuna are now more popular than the British tikka masala.

And yet for immigrants, it’s the opposite. More of their heritage is lost in every generation. From the first immigrants, like the nana in my story, to their child, and then grandchild, at each step, their connection to their heritage is weakened.

The first generation immigrant might spend a large part of their time with family or friends or their community. Whereas the children of immigrants grow up learning to balance their worlds. How they might talk and act at home versus how they’re expected to behave at school or at friend’s houses. They might not even consciously realise how much they change, everything from their language and values to their behaviour and attitudes. If they spend more time out of your heritage culture than in it, they might find themselves missing out. My parents spoke only English in front of us, so my knowledge of any other language was restricted to the names for spices or foods too exotic for the UK to have named.

That desire to fit in, to look like the people on TV or in magazines informs my biracial protagonist Nina. She’s young, just in college, and still finding her feet in the world. She exists in a strange place, too brown for the white kids, too white for the brown, so she’s balancing on that fine line by suppressing her culture to pass more easily. She’s internalised the message that her Indian side has less value.

Like Nina’s mother, my mother was sent over to England at sixteen. She never had a choice either. I wanted to show how Nina’s mother was already disconnected from her heritage by leaving at such a young age, so Nina never had much chance. It was important to show Nina, and the reader, that it’s never too late to connect to your heritage. That what little her mother knows, she can pass on. That Nina can investigate further herself.

So, apart from food, in what other ways do I show how England was influenced by the Indian subcontinent? Well, in my story I used a number of everyday words that are of Asian origin. (There are fourteen. Can you find them all?) The musicians mentioned are all South Asian, and that paisley patterned sofa? Not as Scottish as the name suggests. As for ‘Good old Blighty’, that comes from the Urdu word for foreigner.

Not So Stories is out this month from Rebellion Publishing.

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