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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 June 2007, 10:21 GMT 11:21 UK
'Bland' British food goes Indian
By Geeta Pandey
BBC News, Delhi

Manju Malhi
Ms Malhi says sometimes you want food that's a little 'blander'
A celebrity British chef hopes to woo "over-spiced" Indian palates with her version of "bland" British food.

Manju Malhi is in the Indian capital, Delhi, to present a 40-part television series promoting British cuisine.

Curry has colonised Britain in the past few decades and thousands of Indian restaurants have been set up there.

India too has accepted Chinese, Italian and Japanese food, but British cuisine has failed to tempt Indian tastes. Ms Malhi says she will right that wrong.

'Perfect candidate'

"There is not one British restaurant in Delhi, whereas in Britain there are thousands of Indian restaurants, so why this imbalance? I'm trying to say British food is good if you know how to cook it properly," she says.

I have turned the whole process around - here I'm adding spices to English dishes to make them more acceptable
Manju Malhi

"Lights on. Cue," shouts the show director and as the cameras begin to roll, Ms Malhi smiles and starts talking. "When you cook with lots of love, the food tastes better," she says.

Ms Malhi has been brought to India by the Delhi-based NDTV channel to do the series for their yet-to-be-launched lifestyle channel.

"They wanted someone with British/European upbringing, but also someone who understood Indian sensibilities, so they thought I was the perfect candidate for them."

Ms Malhi says the reason why British food is not so popular here is because it has had a bad press.

"Many people say if it doesn't have chillies in it, it's not worth eating, but I don't believe in that. Sometimes if you eat spicy food all the time, you want something that's a little 'blander'," she says.

Fish and chips
What will Indians make of Britain's signature dish with a twist?

So what's on the menu then?

"I've made mango crumble, the crew here loved the shepherd's pie - they never knew a British dish could taste like that and they were amazed," she says.

"I've made bangers and mash [sausages and mashed potato], the bread and butter pudding has gone down very well too. But Welsh rarebit - they weren't too keen on, it's just cheese-on-toast, they say, even though there is a fine art to making it."

Adding spices

To make the food more palatable, Ms Malhi has been modifying her dishes.

So fish and chips is made with a pinch of turmeric and a hint of chilli powder to give it a bit of a kick. And an English version of spag bol (originally Italian spaghetti bolognese) is made for vegetarians.

Manju Malhi
Ms Malhi's cooking has been a big hit with the crew

"I have turned the whole process around - in Britain curry is diluted to make it less spicy for the British taste buds, here I'm adding spices to English dishes to make them more acceptable."

And if the proof of the pudding is in the eating, the crew have been eating out of her hand.

Ms Malhi, who learned cooking mostly by watching her mother prepare Indian food at home, won a BBC competition a few years ago by making coriander chutney.

She cooked her first meal as a teenager - not an Indian or English dish, but a version of pasta carbonara.

"My mum was pretty critical, saying the pasta's a bit soggy, and the sauce seems a bit salty. You know what mums are like? They are the biggest critics, hardest to please.

"Initially she would say it's not made like this, or we don't cook it like that, or we don't put mustard seeds in later, we put them in first.

"But when I started to create dishes, she tasted it and said, 'Wow it tastes good'.

"And then she tried to replicate one of my dishes, and she said it didn't taste the same! That's the best compliment I've ever got," Ms Malhi says.

Having won her mother's approval, she's now hoping to win over India too.

But India has had a long association with Britain and if Indians have not accepted British food so far, what makes her believe things will change now?

"Perhaps the Indians were upset with the British for other reasons," she says, making an indirect reference to British colonial rule.

"And they [Indian people] said we'll teach you a lesson, we will not eat your food. But now that was 60 years ago, I think we should all put our knives and forks down and settle down to a good meal."

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