Is Chicken Tikka Masala Actually Indian, Not British?

Chicken tikka masala, a beloved dish enjoyed worldwide, has sparked a long-standing debate about its true origins. While some claim it was invented in Britain, others insist it has deep roots in Indian cuisine. Let’s delve into the historical and culinary evidence to uncover the truth behind this culinary conundrum.

The British Connection

The popular narrative surrounding chicken tikka masala’s origin centers around a British Indian restaurant in the 1960s. According to this story, a customer complained about the dryness of his chicken tikka, prompting the chef to improvise by adding tomato soup, spices, and yogurt to the dish. The result was a flavorful and creamy sauce that became an instant hit.

The Indian Heritage

Despite the popular British origin story, many culinary historians trace chicken tikka masala’s roots to the Indian subcontinent. The dish bears striking similarities to butter chicken, a popular dish from North India. Butter chicken is made with marinated chicken cooked in a creamy tomato-based sauce, much like chicken tikka masala.

Furthermore, the use of tandoori chicken, a staple of Indian cuisine, is central to chicken tikka masala. Tandoori chicken is marinated in yogurt and spices and cooked in a cylindrical clay oven called a tandoor. This cooking method imparts a unique smoky flavor to the chicken, which is a defining characteristic of chicken tikka masala.

Historical Context

The presence of a significant South Asian community in Britain, particularly in the post-World War II era, played a crucial role in the development of chicken tikka masala. Many Bangladeshi chefs opened Indian restaurants in Britain, bringing their culinary traditions and flavors to the British palate.

It is entirely plausible that these chefs adapted traditional Indian dishes, such as butter chicken, to suit the tastes of their British customers. The addition of a creamy tomato sauce, for instance, may have been a way to make the dish more palatable to those unfamiliar with the spicier flavors of Indian cuisine.

Culinary Evolution

Over time, chicken tikka masala evolved into a distinct dish, incorporating elements from both Indian and British culinary traditions. The use of British ingredients, such as tomato soup and cream, alongside traditional Indian spices and techniques, resulted in a unique fusion dish that appealed to a wide range of diners.

Today, chicken tikka masala is considered a staple of British Indian cuisine, enjoyed by people of all backgrounds. It has also gained immense popularity in other parts of the world, becoming a beloved dish in many countries.

While the exact origin of chicken tikka masala may be shrouded in culinary folklore, the evidence suggests that it is a dish with both Indian and British influences. Its roots lie in the traditional flavors of the Indian subcontinent, particularly butter chicken and tandoori chicken, while its evolution was shaped by the creativity and adaptation of South Asian chefs in Britain.

Ultimately, chicken tikka masala stands as a testament to the vibrant and dynamic nature of culinary exchange, where flavors and traditions from different cultures blend and evolve to create new and beloved dishes.

According to Satpal Sharma, chef de cuisine at The Chinnery at Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong, “The dish is straightforward in terms of flavor, so each ingredient’s flavor must be perfectly balanced.” Given that there aren’t many ingredients in the dish, one mistake could result in a disastrous outcome. ”.

“The first place we should look for the origins of chicken tikka masala is 5,000 years ago, when tandoor clay ovens were invented.” Then came the tiny, bite-sized pieces that we now refer to as tikka, which originated as a result of Babur’s nitpicking as the first Mughal emperor and founder of the empire. He instructed his Punjabi chefs to remove the chicken bones before cooking the meat in the tandoor because he was so terrified (or sick) of choking on them. The resulting delicacy was called ‘joleh’, Persian for tikka. ”.

One ordinary, rainy, and gloomy night in Glasgow in 1971 saw a bus driver finishing his shift place an order for a chicken curry. He sent it back to the waiter, saying it’s dry. Ali continued by explaining that his father was eating a bowl of tomato soup at the time and was experiencing an ulcer. They sent it back to the table, and the bus driver thought it was so good that he should add some tomato soup and spices to the curry to please his guest. We added it to the menu after he and his buddies kept returning. ”.

With the Origins series, STYLE explores the often surprising beginnings of iconic dishes or foods, how they’ve evolved over time, and the many ways they’re enjoyed today. Questions like: Where are Singapore noodles from? How are century eggs made? Are French fries improperly named? And what is the definitive answer about the origin of tikka masala?

The conversation: “Excuse me,” says the man to the chef. “This chicken tikka is a little dry. Could you please bring something better?” Returning to the kitchen, the chef wants to make his customer happy. He notices a can of tomato soup while looking around and either has a eureka moment or a desperate moment. He reheats the soup, adds a dollop of yogurt and some spices, and then pours it over the chicken.

The widely acknowledged narrative states that chef Ali Ahmed Aslam created chicken tikka masala in Glasgow, Scotland, during the 1970s. After moving to Glasgow from Pakistan as a young boy, Aslam opened the well-known Shish Mahal restaurant in 1964. Ali asserted in a 2009 video interview that he was the inspiration behind chicken tikka masala. He claims that this dish was introduced in 1972 in response to a customer who thought his chicken tikka was too dry. He requested some sauce to be served on the side, but Ali went above and beyond by tossing the chicken in a fast masala or gravy.

Chicken Tikka Masala is a by-product of Tandoori chicken. According to legend, Tandoori chicken first appeared in British India’s Peshawar during the 1940s, amid the city’s busy streets. A recipe for chicken was developed by the innovative chef Kundan Lal Gujral, who made use of the tandoor oven, which was then very common in his community.

Now moving on to chicken tikka masala. It is commonly accepted that Indian chefs attempting to modify their traditional dishes to suit Western palates created chicken tikka masala in the United Kingdom during the 1970s. Some people think it came from India, but immigrants who moved to the UK brought it to the country and it eventually became popular there. Photo: Collected.

In an interview with the Washington Post in 2018, Kundan’s grandson Monish Gujral said that the tale of how tandoori chicken came to be in a single, spontaneous moment of inspiration when Kundan was asked to come up with a chicken dish for the restaurant he worked at has been passed down to millions of Indians.

Today, Chicken Tikka Masala thrives with various regional adaptations. This dish, which reflects the fascinating interplay between cultures and the enduring appeal of flavors that transcend borders, is a testament to the power of culinary ingenuity and cultural exchange, hailing from the inventive minds of Kundan Lal Gujral and Ali Ahmed Aslam to the busy kitchens of Indian restaurants in the UK.

Where Does Chicken Tikka Masala Actually Come From? | AJ+


Is tikka masala truly Indian?

Chicken tikka masala is said to have been invented in Britain – but its origins are ancient, and lie in the Indian subcontinent.

Which Indian dish is actually British?

We all love a traditional and heart-warming curry from time to time, and you may be surprised to discover that one of India’s most infamous dishes is actually thought to be a British invention!

Do Indians eat chicken tikka masala?

Chicken Tikka Masala is a classic Indian dish. Everyone loves this dish worldwide. It is a delicious combination of marinated chicken with a creamy tomato-based sauce. So, it’s not hard to understand why it’s become so popular Indian dish.

Where did chicken tikka masala come from?

Chicken tikka masala may derive from butter chicken, a popular dish in the northern Indian subcontinent. The Multicultural Handbook of Food, Nutrition and Dietetics credits its creation to Bangladeshi migrant chefs in Britain in the 1960s. They developed and served a number of new inauthentic “Indian” dishes, including chicken tikka masala.

Is chicken tikka masala a British invention?

Chicken Tikka Masala is a popular curry dish that is enjoyed by millions of people around the world. But the origin of this dish is often a matter of debate. While many people believe that it is an Indian dish, there are also claims that it is actually a British invention.

Why is chicken tikka masala a national dish?

The dish has taken on large cultural significance in Britain. It is widely considered to be one of the country’s national dishes. In 2001 British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook gave a speech in which he hailed chicken tikka masala as a symbol of modern multicultural Britain.

What is chicken tikka?

Chicken tikka is an Indian dish. The masala sauce was added to satisfy the desire of British people to have their meat served in gravy.

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