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Britain at war over chicken tikka masala

London, July 23: Gulam Noon today stepped into Britain’s spiciest row by claiming that he might well be the man who invented “chicken tikka masala”, now one of the most popular dishes in the UK if not the most popular.

The food entrepreneur dismissed the suggestion by Mohammed Sarwar, a member of the British Parliament, that the dish had been invented in Glasgow and should be recognised as such by the European Union.

“I am very hopeful that the EU will give chicken tikka masala the official stamp of Glasgow origin,” Sarwar declared.

This assertion may not be totally unconnected with the fact that Sarwar happens to be Labour MP for Glasgow Central. He has represented the constituency since 1987 and, in the best traditions of Indian and Pakistani politics, is expecting to be succeeded by his son, Anas, at the next general election.

Sarwar’s campaign for recognition is being supported by the Glasgow city council.

“Glasgow’s contribution to popular cuisine deserves to be more widely recognised,” argued Sarwar. “Tikka masala is perhaps one of the earliest examples of the modern fashion for ‘fusion’ cuisine.”

He added: “Glaswegians loved the flavour of Asian spices but still wanted a bit of gravy on their meat. The Shish Mahal (restaurant) pioneered great Asian food with a Glasgow twist.”

Ali Ahmed Aslam, proprietor of the Shish Mahal, apparently prepared a sauce using spices soaked in a tin of condensed tomato soup after a customer had complained that his food was too dry.

According to Iqbal Wahaab, who made the transition from writing about Indian food to running an Indian restaurant, “no one really knows who created the dish. It just evolved. I was the one who told the story about the dish being invented because a customer had complained his food was too dry. But I now confess that I made that story up.”

But chicken tikka masala, chicken cooked in a spicy sauce (sometimes the sauce is poured over boiled chicken to produce a particularly tasteless version of the recipe), now represents the most crucial element of a £2.5billion (Rs 20,000 crore) industry employing 65,000 people. There are 8,000-10,000 “Indian” restaurants in the UK.

Noon’s factories produce 100,000 packets of chicken tikka masala a day — each portion weighs 400gm — which are then transported by lorry to branches of such supermarkets as Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Morrison to even the remotest parts of the UK. Market penetration is nearly 100 per cent.

“When I first started making the dish in 1989, I called it chicken tikka makhanwala,” Noon explained. “I thought this was a mouthful so I changed the name to chicken tikka masala in 1990. So, in a way, I could say I invented the dish. But who cares? Every Indian and Pakistani should say, ‘Chicken tikka masala hamara hai.’ That would be good for my business.”

He added an interesting footnote: “Chicken tikka exists in India, of course, but not chicken tikka masala. But now many restaurants in India do serve chicken tikka masala for their customers from Britain.”

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