London, Nov. 17: Tesco, Britain’s biggest supermarket chain which is trying to break into India, yesterday made “culinary history” by introducing what it claims to be Britain’s first “curry sandwich”.
The Indian folded tortilla sandwich, according to a Tesco spokesman, “contains not only curried chicken but also rice, raita, mango chutney — all staple ingredients of a good, filling curry”.
The £2.60 (about Rs 200) curry sandwich goes on sale at 550 of Tesco’s national network of 2,000 stores.
Tesco has chosen to use a tortilla wrap, instead of sliced bread, to prevent the fillings from leaking out.
Tesco’s sandwich buyer Elizabeth Cobbold said: “Curry has been Britain’s number one dish for a while now but we were amazed to find that no one had ever brought out a sandwich honouring our favourite food. You can get pizzas with curry toppings and pies with curried meat or vegetable fillings but nothing ever like this.”
She predicted: “We think our ‘curry in a hurry’ will appeal to anyone who needs to satisfy their curry cravings or have something simple to line their stomach before going out for a drink.”
Cobbold added: “We will review the curry sandwich to see how popular it is and if it is a big seller, we will consider extending the range to bring in a much wider range of curry fillings, including vegetarian options and prawns.”
Indian cuisine has become part of the British way of life, with curry available from anything between 8,000 and 10,000 Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi restaurants across the UK and in the form of prepared and chilled Indian meals from supermarkets such as Tesco, Sainsbury and Waitrose.
More and more, the British are also starting to experiment with Indian recipes at home, encouraged by television programmes presented by the likes of the photogenic Anjum Anand, the desi version of the voluptuous “domestic goddess” Nigella Lawson.
The value of the British sandwich retail market is estimated to be over £3 billion a year but this rises to £4.8 billion when all commercial sales are taken into account, according to Jim Winship, director of the British Sandwich Association.
“I have never heard of a curry sandwich before,” he said. “We are quite traditional in our taste. Chicken sandwiches account for 30 per cent of sales but there is always room for innovation and the curry sandwich sounds very innovative.”
It is not as though Indians have not experimented with curry sandwiches. Indian women office workers often hastily throw left over sabji between two slices of buttered bread, which they may toast to add further flavour.
Sandwiches filled with tandoori chicken are also sold in supermarkets.
Small stores have spiced up the humble British sandwich in their own way.
In Edinburgh, the most popular item at the Sandwich Stack chain is the “tandoori chicken, onion bhaji and mango chutney”, its owner, Pauline Thorburn, has revealed.
In recent years, Britain’s sandwich market has grown to include modern innovations such as the Mexican tortilla wrap, Italian breads such as focaccia, filled French croissants, Greek pitta bread and New York bagels.
Sandwiches started to become big business in the 80s after the growth of fast food culture in the UK and a vast number of sandwich shops opened to meet the growing demand.
Research by Tesco shows that demand stepped up in the late 1990s after the proliferation of foreign coffee shops that would also sell increasingly exotic combinations of fillings, but also at “rather exotic prices”.
Will the British curry sandwich come to India'
Tesco nearly clinched a deal with Sunil Mittal’s Bharti Enterprises last year but ultimately the latter chose to get into bed with America’s Wal-Mart.
But Tesco is still looking for the right partner in India.
“It’s a market that we remain interested in,” confirmed Greg Sage, Tesco’s chief spokesman on corporate affairs.