Curry festival spices up London

Brick Lane Curry Festival offers hot traditional food as well as milder Anglo-Indian classics.
Britons are famed for their love of curry and, over the years, the country’s taste for South Asian food has evolved into a unique blend of cuisine specially created for British palates.

Nowhere is this more apparent than at the so-called ‘curry mile’ in London’s Brick Lane, which this week celebrates what is billed as “the only curry festival in Europe.” The two week-long festival takes place in the street which received its name during the rebuilding period after the Great Fire of London. Today, the area around Brick Lane is known as ‘Banglatown,’ referring to the large Bangladeshi community which arrived in Britain during the second half of the twentieth century. The community and especially the new businesses have transformed London’s East End, which was traditionally the heart of Britain’s working class, whose cuisine of jellied eels and cockles, is far removed from the spicy dishes that are popular in the area today. See images from the festival “These restaurants have made a huge contribution to the UK economy and been largely responsible for bringing tourism and visitors from far and wide to the area. They have also transformed Brick Lane into one of UK’s most popular and vibrant destinations,” Amir Hussain, organizer of the festival told CNN.

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The melting pot has also helped define the Indo-British cuisine, as some unique dishes have been created which adapt traditional Bangladeshi cuisine to Britain’s passion for spices. Mohammed Shamim, co-owner of City Spice in Brick Lane, says two of his most popular culinary fusions are the Balti — a type of curry served in a traditional stainless steel dish, and the Chicken Tikka Masala, which some consider to be the true national dish. “Those dishes were created in Britain. Some say they originated in Birmingham, others say they were created in London,” he says. Khaled Ahmed, manager of Shampan, one of the 50-plus restaurants in the area, says these dishes have been created because the cuisine from South Asia might be a bit too strong for Britons. “People here prefer mild curry to strong curry. This is different in Asia,” he says and added that there will be stronger curry dishes during the two weeks of the festival. Diversified menus, music, dance and street performances could attract more curry lovers, something both Shamim and Ahmed’s hope for, as their restaurants have been affected by the economic crisis. Restaurant owners hope the festival will help them overcome the effects of the recession, which has seen cash-strapped customers tighten their belts.

“There are fewer guests in Brick Lane. The crisis has affected us much,” Shamin told CNN. However, Ahmed is positive about the future. “The situation will improve,” he says, because “Britons are addicted to curry.”