Not so long ago, we thought that London was the curry capital of the world. Never have I ever eaten so much curry... not even in India! Yet, to be honest, this was always curry that tasted nothing like what we cook at home. And this is not necessarily a compliment — as more than 80 per cent of the restaurant owners stirring up curry in London restaurants are originally from Sylhet in Bangladesh. The surprise is that this Bangladeshi cuisine has been relished and passed off as an “Indian”. Apparently, many of the curry chefs were originally workers on ships, who jumped into a career on land because of the gruelling conditions at sea.
But now, the over £4 billion “curry” business has been facing shrinking profit margins of its own, because the salaries of those working in these restaurants are due to go up to around £30,000 a year, while the prices of ingredients, such as spices from India, have also increased. And then you have Indian takeaways, which, apparently have improved in quality giving stiff competition to restaurants. (To be honest, I have never tried an Indian takeaway because we would rather eat simple home-made dal-chawal than pick up a fancy chicken tikka masala that appears as enticing as overspiced cardboard!) Indian food in the UK, by and large, swings between haute and hot cuisine, but it is usually quite different from what one gets in India.
And now, for all these reasons, UK-based mid range “Indian restaurants” — once a matter of pride for the community — are said to be struggling. Perhaps, had it been genuine “Indian” food, like tandoori, dum pukht or even simple masala dosas, the warning bells would not have rung. Could it be time for entrepreneurs to start supplying genuine Indian cuisine, made by Indian housewives? What a hit it will be!
So while Indian food is no longer currying favour, migration remains a top issue, as Europe continues to struggle with large numbers pouring in. Not all the efforts of multicultural integration, especially regarding the recent influx of refugees, are going well. Whilst Germany led the way and generously opened its borders, some really dismal incidents have occurred. Recently, there was outrage over the fact that women were sexually assaulted at Cologne, presumably by migrants. The police chief has been sacked as there appears to have been an effort to cover up the fact that “refugees” were involved.
A variety of reasons might have led to this sexual aggression — but obviously there is also a genuine clash of cultures. There has been little time to indoctrinate these refugees into a new and far more liberal lifestyle. The reverberations of these incidents are echoing in the UK where it is felt that criminals among the refugees will have to be sent back. Naturally, once the refugees have been given shelter they are difficult to repatriate. What was a kind-hearted solution to a humanitarian problem might have become difficult to handle. And this is entirely separate from the other concern that the refugees might also harbour militants among them, who are likely to disappear.
Kishwar Desai is an award-winning author...