Friday, September 30, 2005

History Friday: Ruby Murray!

A Plate of Biryani and I'm Yours

Rejoice! Rejoice! Yesterday the vital role of Sake Dean Mahomed in the life of Indians in Britain, culinary adventurism, and my expanding waistline was officially recognized by London's great and good yesterday:

Curry house founder is honoured
An Indian entrepreneur who opened one of the UK's first curry houses has been honoured with a green plaque.

In 1810 Sake Dean Mahomed established the Hindoostane Coffee House in George Street, central London. He is also reputed to have introduced therapeutic massage or "shampooing" to Britain and was the first Indian writer to be published in English.

The plaque, which celebrates the achievements of former Westminster residents, was unveiled on Thursday.

At the age of 11, Mahomed joined the East India Company Army and rose to the rank of captain. He fought in a number of campaigns until 1782 when he resigned from the army and two years later arrived in Britain. Staying in Ireland he wrote and published his book, The Travels of Dean Mahomet.

He later moved to Portman Square where he became an assistant to Sir Basil Cochrane at his vapour bath. This is where Mr Mahomed is said to have added an Indian treatment, champi (shampooing) or therapeutic massage, to Cochrane's bath which became very fashionable.

In 1810 he opened the Hindoostane Coffee House serving Hookha with real Chilm tobacco and Indian-style dishes. The premises is now a building called Carlton House. To many who are now part of the city's expansive curry house business, Mahomed was a pioneer. Although forced to declare bankruptcy in 1812, he created a concept that was to become something of a phenomenon 100 years later, said Vivek Singh, chef at the Cinnamon Club, a Westminster restaurant serving New Indian cuisine.

Mr Mahomed's plan had been to serve "Indianised" British food which would appeal to the Indian aristocracy in London as well as British people who had returned from India, Singh said. "The Indian aristocracy however would not come out to eat in the restaurant because they had chefs at home cooking more authentic food - it was just not a big enough draw to come out."

Sake Dean Mahomed was just ahead of his time: at the turn of the 21st century and anglo-indian creation called chicken tikka masala was voted the Britain's favorite dish in a nationwide poll. My little brother chose to go to university in Bradford due in part to the fact that it has more Indian restaurants per head of population than anywhere else in the UK. Indeed, one of the things I miss most living in rural Maine is the plethora of Indian restaurants that used to greet me wherever I went in England. Luckily, Mr. Patak now ships his sauces worldwide and a well thumbed copy of Cooking Like Mummyji lives on my kitchen bookshelf, so I'm not completely starved of my favorite foods. Should anyone be thinking "I should get that nice Weasel bloke a present" (for Christmas, or for not having returned any books lent to one in two years, or as a general payoff), this wouldn't be a bad place to shop.

Sake Dean Mahomed, I salute your vision and that of your successors, sir. A life without Indian food would be a grey and inspid one indeed.


Debbie said...

Better to be honored WITH a green plaque for your food than to HAVE green plaque because of your food is what I always say.

Clokeeeey! said...

Hi dude, My Girlfriend discovered a fantastic Indian place close to her place. We ate there last night and I reckon it's going to be my new haunt for take aways. Absolutely delicious.

Anyway, I just popped over to tell you I've tagged you for a meme, it's not exciting but could be interesting (like mine). Go to my place for the rules.

See ya.
Some cricket over the next week with World v Aussies, could be interesting.

Mondale said...

Have you noticed how Clokeeey has been all chirpy and friendly in a 'don't mention the war/Ashes' sort of way? Father is still missing some sheep from the top field and the hairy aussie is not beyond suspicion.

Clokeeeey! said...

Leave the sheep out of it. They knew what they were getting into.

Joe said...

If you're going to be in Brunswick any time soon, there are two Indian restaurants to choose from.

weasel said...

I know of them Joe but thanks for the tip; one of them does some of the food at the Common Ground. Two in Portland, two in Bangor also (one of the Bangor ones is a halal Pakistani joint). Funny thing: American Indian restaurant food is subtly different from British Indian restaurant food. I suppose what I like is what Vicky Boghal delineates as "British Asian" as opposed to "Indian" food; second generation versus mother country and all that.