GLASGOW Scotland is known around the world for bagpipes, Scotch whisky, haggis and tartan kilts. But now it is trying to protect a less obviously Scottish treasure chicken tikka masala.
A chef from Glasgow claims he invented the curry dish, and is pressing the European Union to give it “Protected Designation of Origin” status, alongside the likes of Champagne, Parma Ham and Greek Feta cheese.
The Ali family, owners of Shish Mahal restaurant in Glasgow, said they came up with the creamy, mildly spicy curry in the 1970s to please the Scots, but then it went on to become the most popular dish in British restaurants.
“Chicken tikka masala was invented in this restaurant, we used to make chicken tikka, and one day a customer said, 'I'd take some sauce with that, this is a bit dry',” said Ahmed Aslam Ali, 64, founder of Shish Mahal.
“We thought we'd better cook the chicken with some sauce. So from here we cooked chicken tikka with the sauce that contains yogurt, cream, spices.
“It's a dish prepared according to our customer's taste, usually they don't take hot curry, that's why we cook it with yogurt and cream.”
Although it is difficult to prove definitively where it originated, the dish is generally regarded as a curry adapted to suit Western tastes. And a Glasgow lawmaker has taken steps to gain EU legal protection for the curry, which recognises it as a local speciality.
“Tikka masala is perhaps one of the earliest examples of the modern fashion for fusion cuisine,” said Mohammad Sarwar, who tabled a motion in the House of Commons earlier this month calling for EU protection.
“I am very hopeful that the EU will give chicken tikka masala the official stamp of Glasgow origin,” said the Labour MP for Glasgow Central.
Supporters of the campaign point to the fact that former foreign minister Robin Cook once described it as a crucial part of British culture.
“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,” Cook said in a 2001 speech on British identity.If London decides to support the campaign and send a request to the European Commission, the body will, as a next step, examine whether the application is admissible.
The whole procedure by the Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development could take one to two years to complete.
“If it's recognised as a Glasgow dish I think we should be proud,” said Ali.
The restaurateur, originally from Punjab province in Pakistan, said he wants the dish to be a gift to Glasgow, to give something back to his adopted city.
But he will not object if others use the tikka masala name.
“When we invented this dish, we never thought it would be that popular, and now it's the most popular dish in Great Britain.
“We don't mind if other people use it. Everyone should enjoy that.”
In the kitchen of Shish Mahal, an upscale restaurant in Glasgow's west, a chef grabs a long skewer of chicken from a clay oven, removes the pieces of meat and adds the sauce.
“You have to put the tikka into the pan, add gravy in it, heat it up again... then we put the green pepper and the red sauce, a mix of yogurt and our secret spices,” said cook Intsar Humayun, wearing a large striped apron.
“That's a unique flavour you cannot find in the whole of Britain. Then we add the cream”.
If Glasgow succeeds in claiming tikka masala, the city might soon see competition from another curry.
The city of Birmingham in central England has started its own campaign to claim the origin of “balti,” another dish popular throughout Britain.—AFP