No, dear reader, this isn’t another chilli-laden recipe book but rather a book about us British – how our food has developed over the last 150 years and what that development says about us as a nation. Panikos Panayi has written a well-researched and absorbing book that explains the progression from traditional to Tikka Masala.
Britain, and especially its cities, has long been the final destination of immigrants fleeing persecution, looking for freedom or a better life. They brought with them skills and a longing for a taste of home. It was a story repeated with each successive and diverse group that arrived. Chinese, Italians, Jews, Germans, Indians all sought familiar foods.
Perhaps the most evident culinary influence has been that of immigrants from India, but this impact can be traced back much further than the 1970s. Mrs. Beeton has numerous recipes for Indian dishes although they could be said to owe more to Anglo India than a maharaja’s kitchen. We have taken to the warming and aromatic spices of the subcontinent in a big way.
The first Chinese and Indian restaurants were set up to provide familiar food to workers who didn’t have cooking facilities or wives to make the meals. The Jewish community had to provide their own grocers and butchers to be assured of keeping Kosher, and before the First World War there were even numerous German restaurants, bakers and bars to be found in cities all over the UK.
There is no denying that Britain has had a bad reputation for food but we have embraced the cuisine of other ethnic groups and made a new British cuisine. The “Indian” food here would probably seem strange to a resident of Mumbai, and a Chinese exchange student wouldn’t recognise much in the local Take-Away. Fish and chip shops (selling those fish and chips that might not actually be as British as you think they are) are run by Greeks and you can have “curry” sauce on your fries, and there are shelves of bagels and Caribbean vegetables in every supermarket.
Panikos Panayi was born in London to Greek Cypriot parents. He is married to Mundeep who is an Indian Sikh. The blood in my family is Irish, English, Indian, Swedish, French and Polish. Spicing Up Britain is about who we are, and the way we eat illustrates that in a colourful and inclusive way. Spicing Up Britain is a thoroughly good read!
Spicing Up Britain
Author: Panikos Panayi
Published by: Reaktion Books Ltd.
Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018