JD Wetherspoon is now the UK’s biggest seller of curries and the traditional British curry house is in crisis, according to a new article from the Financial Times.
A brief history of the British curry house
Indian spices began to enter Britain after the set up of the East India Company in the 1600s opened trade between the two countries.
The country’s first curry house opened over 200 years ago, but it was the end of the Second World War and the British Empire and the migratory boom from the Indian subcontinent it caused that led the industry to explode.
In 2001, then Foreign Secretary Robin Cook called the chicken tikka masala, said to have been first created in Glasgow, “a true British national dish”.
The Financial Times highlights a number of reasons for the decline of a stable of British culinary culture:
- Growing costs
While the price of a curry house has shown little increase, the costs of producing them have rocketed, driven by spiralling staff and import costs.
- New competitors
Challenges from the growth chain restaurants and popularity of new, more exotic cuisines have moved younger diners towards alternative options.
- Changing ambitions
More children of migrants are gaining qualifications that present different professional opportunities.
- Immigration rules
The points-based visa system that separates workers into tiers based on their skills has lessened the entry to Britain of skilled chefs from the countries that created the recipes that have become so prominent on our plates.
- Lack of franchises
Most curry restaurants in the UK are family businesses and the corporate mentality that has largely not been embraced.
But hope is not lost. New delivery services have improved distribution possibilities, and economic growth has improved the prospects of greater investment.
The traditional British curry house still has a future, but some of its traditions may have to be forgotten.