Redbridge man’s mission to introduce British curry to the rest of the world

PUBLISHED: 08:00 06 July 2013

Syed Belal Ahmed founded the British Curry Festival 10 years ago

Syed Belal Ahmed founded the British Curry Festival 10 years ago


“If you ordered a chicken tikka masala or balti in India you would get a strange look,” says a father-of-one of Redbridge, who has made it his mission to introduce the British curry to the rest of the world.

British curry: The facts

• In 1809, the British Indian entrepreneur Sake Dean Mahomed opened the first Indian curry house in England, called the Hindustani Coffee House

• During the 1950s the number of curry fans increased dramatically thanks to its use in coronation chicken, the dish created to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation

• There are about 12,000 Indian restaurants in Britain serving more than three million customers a year

• The curry industry accounts for two-thirds of all eating out

• Indian restaurants in the UK get through more than 200,000 tonnes of rice a year

• There are more Indian restaurants in London than in Mumbai and New Delhi combined

• UK curry lovers munch nearly four million poppadoms a week

“British curries are loved by everyone and are up there with fish and chips as our national food,” added Syed Belal Ahmed, who founded the British Curry Festival 10 years ago.

Over the past decade, editor of Curry Life magazine, Mr Ahmed, of Keswick Gardens, has travelled all over the world alongside some of the UK’s best curry chefs to introduce a number of traditional classics to residents.

The festival organises events where Asian interpretations of national dishes like shepherd’s pie and well-known curries are served.

The 52-year-old, who grew up eating curries at his family’s restaurant in Yorkshire, said: “British curries are unique and we use different spices to Indian curries, such as thyme and rosemary, and they tend to be much healthier.

“Alongside world renowned chefs we devise a menu and take them to top establishments in countries including India and Slovenia.

“Curry is a British way of life and we wanted to show others what we could do. We have had an overwhelming response.”

The next part of the festival will involve a 10-day event at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, in Calcutta, with Michelin-star chef Dominic Chapman.

The chef, who has worked at Heston Blumental’s Fat Duck, will be putting his weight behind a campaign for the Michelin food guide to be introduced in India for the first time.

Mr Ahmed, who admits he likes fish curries the best, added: “Only a small number of Indian restaurants in this country are officially classed as being among the top eateries and we just wanted to see them recognised.

“With help from Dominic we want to continue taking what should be our greatest export to more people around the globe and experiment with more dishes.”

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