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Can the British curry take off in India?

Curry at the festival in Calcutta
British curries are being described as milder and healthier than Indian versions

At a festival in Calcutta, British chefs are bringing their version of curries back to India. But will the British curry prove a hit with those used to the real thing, asks the BBC's Rahul Tandon.

The British curry has come home.

As you walk into one of Calcutta's top restaurants there are huge posters encouraging food lovers to give it a chance.

Syed Bilal Ahmed, director of the Taste of Britain Curry Festival, says the British curry is "healthier, has better ingredients, and is milder" than the Indian version.

Mr Ahmed, however, is slightly nervous.

Indians love their food and they may not take kindly to chefs from abroad - even if they are of South Asian origin - turning up and telling them how to cook.

Shaun Kenworthy, a British-trained chef now based in Calcutta, says he once considered opening a restaurant which combined British and Indian flavours, but is now convinced it would not work.

"I think people are so used to what they have eaten all their lives, to change it is almost a sin," he said.

"The kind of yellow dhal (lentils) they have, or chicken makhani (mild curry), have to be cooked a certain way and they cannot be any different."

Billion-pound business

Chefs at the Calcutta curry festival
Curries are hugely popular in Britain

But those behind the food festival are ready for the challenge.

Over the past 30 years they have made the curry Britain's national dish.

The chicken tikka masala and the balti have become as popular in Britain as the most traditional of dishes - fish and chips.

It is also now big business, bringing in around £4.2bn ($6.44bn) in revenue every year and employing more than 100,000 people, according to Syed Nahas Pasha, editor-in-chief of Curry Life magazine.

To showcase these dishes, some of Britain's top curry chefs are here.

Partha Mitra, a chef from Chester, is hard at work in the kitchen, cooking up a balti dish.

It originated in Pakistan, but he tells me that it has been adapted for the British palate.

"It has less oil, less spices, less colour and less salt and sugar. That means you can eat more curries and that's more money for us," he explains.

So, what else is on the menu?

Mr Mitra shows me a lamb dish that appears to be floating on a pale-coloured sauce.

It is a traditional roast lamb marinated in a combination of British herbs and Indian spices and an apricot curry sauce.

Basically, it is an anglicised version of a traditional Parsee dish.

"People might think it is a strange concept - but they will like the flavours and the tastes," Mr Mitra says.

"Bringing curries back to India is a little weird, but I am sure we will do well."

'Bit bland'

And they seem to be - the restaurant is busy.

Fish curry and chips
Indian fish and chips may not prove as popular as the original dish in Britain

In Calcutta, a city of food-lovers, many have come for the novelty factor.

Supta Sen says she enjoyed her balti dish, but is a bit confused.

"There is a contradiction here, as when we hear the word 'curry' we expect it to be spicy, but then we hear the word 'British' and we have no idea what to expect. But it's nice - mild," she explains.

Her friend, Suman Bose, agrees.

"For Indians who eat out a lot, this works - something milder is heaven," he says. "But Indians who like their spices will finds this a bit bland."

So a cautious thumbs-up from these diners.

Mixed cuisine

And, if the festival proves successful you may see a British curry restaurant opening up in India.

Murad Chaudhry is a restaurateur in the UK.

"Over the years all the big restaurants have come over to India and taken the best chefs back over to England," he says.

"They have an opportunity to develop their ideas and that is why the food in England is more exciting."

He also believes that as there are chefs from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh in Britain, they can learn from one another's cuisine - something which is not possible in South Asia.

There are of course many regional variations of the curry.

The British one may be the newest, but who knows? In a few years it may just conquer India.

Here in Calcutta at least, the curry coming home has been a success.



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