The Origins of Chicken Tikka Masala
By John Day Barnett
Living in the U.S., there are many dishes that people order from “ethnic” restaurants that in no way resemble what people from a certain country actually eat. Check out the entertaining and informative documentary The Search for General Tso.
After watching The Search for General Tso documentary I got curious about an equally beloved dish, Chicken Tikka Masala. I’ve got wonderful Indian in-laws who are vegetarian and love to cook (especially for their newly minted son-in-law). No longer do I default to ordering chicken tikka masala, a samosa or two, and a Kingfisher beer – my tastes have evolved to Kaman Dhokla, Dhansak, Palak Chaat, and of course, Bataka Nu Shak.
In my search for the origins of Chicken Tikka Masala, I found the article,The Dish on how CTM became “Britain’s National Dish” on The Star’s website written by Jennifer Quinn in May 2014.
If you want to believe the legend, chicken tikka masala was “created in the 1970s by a chef in a Glasgow curry house, using a can of soup to create sauce after being confronted by a customer who found plain chicken tikka too dry.”
The article also links to a speech dubbed by some the “Chicken Tikka Masala Speech” made by foreign secretary Robin Cook in 2001. In the speech, he says:
“Chicken Tikka is an Indian dish. The Masala sauce was added to satisfy the desire of British people to have their meat served in gravy.”
If Chicken Tikka Masala was developed by Indians living outside India to satisfy the tastes of their adopted countrymen and countrywomen, does that make it any less Indian?
Personally, I love chicken tikka masala. Do I care it if is a purely (supposedly) British dish? Not at all. I don’t get involved in the heated debates about who invented pizza, the hamburger (definitely Louis’ Lunch in New Haven), or General Tso’s chicken. I believe that the output or resulting product from a mix of people, cultures, geographies, and traditions make things that are interesting, bold, more delicious, and even more authentic than those heralded as “real.”