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The controversial history of the chicken tikka masala

Ah, the chicken tikka masala – is there a dish in the world that is more redolent of the Indian sub-continent? With its sumptuous blend of herbs and spices (including cumin, coriander, chilli, ginger and, of course, garam masala) your tastebuds would swear they were being tickled from the very heart of Punjab, right?

Well…

Food historians are divided on the subject. Renowned food critic Rahul Verma insists that the dish did indeed originate in India, describing it as a Punjabi dish dating back to around 1971.

However, a more commonly accepted derivation of the dish comes from rather closer to home. Ali Ahmed Aslam, owner of Glasgow’s famous curry house, Shish Mahal, claims to be the inventor of the dish. According to him, a customer at the restaurant returned his chicken to the kitchen, complaining that it was too dry. Ali was on a liquid-only diet at the time, owing to a stomach ulcer, and decided to add a mix of spices to the tomato soup he had been subsisting on, coating the chicken with it, and returning it to the disgruntled customer, who was delighted by the new taste experience.

In 2009, Labour MP Mohammad Sarwar requested before Parliament that Glasgow be legally recognised as the home of chicken tikka masala, and afforded protected geographical status for the dish. Alas, it never got further than an Early Day Motion.

Food historians Colleen and Peter Grove are adamant the dish was invented in Scotland, but that the recipe was likely a modification of an existing Indian or Bangladeshi recipe, the most likely being shahi chicken masala, first published in 1961.

The debate about whether chicken tikka masala is Indian or Scottish, or some multicultural hybrid of the two, is likely to rage then at least simmer for some time to come. Meanwhile, if you can’t decide, why not try your hand at making it yourself? Packed with herbs and spices, our Tikka Masala kit goes great with chicken, or lamb, or just about anything really. Serve it with pilau rice for a healthy, hearty, tasty meal.

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