Forget the traditional meat and two veg: Brits have developed a taste for spice — and it might be making them healthier.
Stir-fry now tops the charts as Britain's favorite food, but tikka masala still weighs in at No. 2. According to a Food Network UK poll, 39 percent of Brits eat the Indian dish regularly, and even the smallest British towns have curry shops.
And a curry a day could keep illness at bay, according to an Oregon State University study. The research showed that curcumin — part of the orange-yellow spice turmeric — fires up the immune system. "Sustained consumption may help protect against infection," says Professor Adrian Gombart.
This isn't the first time curry has stepped into the superfood spotlight. In 2009, the Anglo-Indian celebrity chef Gurpareet Bains announced the creation of the world's healthiest meal: chicken and blueberry curry with goji berry pilau rice. Some ingredients helped fight off carcinogenic cells, he claimed. Others — like chili, ginger, garlic and turmeric — had antibacterial and antiviral properties.
All this is good news for the Brits, who've embraced Asian cuisine with gusto.
Britain's National Curry Week runs from October 8-14 in 2012. But here are some tasty places to "take your medicine" at any time of the year.
The capital's first Indian restaurant opened in 1810: the Hindoostane Coffee House served tobacco hookahs alongside subcontinental cuisine. It failed, but others followed.
Today, barkers crowd the East End's Brick Lane, trying to lure tourists into nearby restaurants. Escape that spice route and pop across Whitechapel Road to Tayyabs instead. Though a darling of the food critics, it still charges burger-bar prices. Just remember to bring your own booze, as this Punjabi canteen isn't licensed to sell alcohol.
For a more upscale experience, try Cinnamon Kitchen, set in an old East India Company warehouse near Liverpool Street station. This clever, contemporary eatery won "best newcomer" in the 2012 British Curry Awards.
More than 50 Indian eateries pack Birmingham's world-famous "Balti Triangle." The UK's second most populous city has made curry its own since the 1970s with a signature style that uses vegetable oil, rather than rich, oily ghee (clarified butter). The dish is cooked and served in a Balti, a flat-bottomed steel bowl. Diners scoop the sizzling curry with pillowy naan bread — and it's only good manners to wipe the dish clean at the end.
Now Birmingham is asking the European Union to protect its regional recipe with "Traditional Speciality Guaranteed Status." So far, just two British foodstuffs enjoy this special status: Traditional Farmfresh Turkey and Gloucestershire Old Spots Pork. Stay tuned for the ruling in September.
The wider West Midlands metro area has plenty to offer in the meantime. Check out the Michelin-starred Simpsons (www.simpsonsrestaurant.co.uk) or Duet Cuisine, which won 2011's Best Birmingham Balti Competition, despite its alternate Italian menu (www.duetcuisine.co.uk).
Tighter immigration laws have sparked a "curry crisis" in Britain's £3.6 billion curry industry. But the city of Bradford is doing its part to keep the fires burning (in the tandoori ovens, at least) with a new collegiate chef program. No wonder the city — a mango stone's throw west of Leeds — is the Curry Capital of Britain this year.
No-frills cafes emerged in Bradford in the 60s, catering to Indian textile workers. Karachiremains their flagship today with shopworn décor, swift service and cheap superstar dishes like meatball curry. Or hold the meat and head for the vegetarian restaurant Prashad, a 2010 finalist on Gordon Ramsey's Best Restaurant program.
Forty miles south simmers the nation's largest concentration of Asian restaurants: Manchester's Curry Mile. Diners and drinkers routinely pack the Rusholme area until 3 or 4 a.m.
Britain has more than 9,500 curry houses to explore — which gives diners plenty of opportunity to start craving Indian cuisine (its stimulating spices can boost your heart-rates and create a "natural high").
by Amanda Castleman