UK Curry Scene Editor : David Smith speech given  19 April 2001
The quote "Chicken Tikka Massala is now a true British national dish" comes from a speech made by the late Robin Cook who, at the time, was British Foreign Secretary. The quote has often been taken out of context since it was spoken so, for the record, here is a fuller extract from that famous speech :

"And it isn't just our economy that has been enriched by the arrival of new communities. Our lifestyles and cultural horizons have also been broadened in the process. This point is perhaps more readily understood by young Britons, who are more open to new influences and more likely to have been educated in a multi-ethnic environment. But it reaches into every aspect of our national life.

Chicken Tikka Massala is now a true British national dish, not only because it is the most popular, but because it is a perfect illustration of the way Britain absorbs and adapts external influences. Chicken Tikka is an Indian dish. The Massala sauce was added to satisfy the desire of British people to have their meat served in gravy.

Coming to terms with multiculturalism as a positive force for our economy and society will have significant implications for our understanding of Britishness."

Robin Cook's speech caused quite a stir at the time and prompted responses such as the following extract from an article published in The Independent and written by upmarket restaurateur Iqbal Wahhab:

"Should we be proud, or should we be appalled, that the chicken tikka masala has become the cultural symbol of our times? A bit of both, I suspect. But either way, the question arises of why exactly Foreign Secretary Robin Cook settled on this particular made-up dish, concocted to soothe the sensitive British palate, when he was searching for the perfect metaphor to show how successful that other concoction, multiculturalism, had become?"

He goes on :

"...which makes it particularly fascinating that the chicken tikka masala, and by extension the Indian restaurant in general, should be selected to provide a cultural capsule of Britain today. After all, the great British curry house is still modelled on a design that owners a couple of decades ago thought reflected what the British thought of India. Minarets for the exotic touch, pub-style velour seats for recognisable comfort... Who are we kidding? Genuine multiculturalism this isn't."

And the debate still goes on to this day.

article by Iqbal Wahhab © Independent Digital (UK) Ltd, 2001
original material © David W Smith, 2002
This article may not be reproduced electronically or in print without the permission of the copyright owners.

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