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Meet the Bangalis who introduced curry to Birmingham

  • Published at 09:42 am January 14th, 2018
  • Last updated at 03:14 pm January 14th, 2018
Meet the Bangalis who introduced curry to Birmingham
Curry is as British as fish and chips, perhaps even more so as it continues to grow in popularity. Although incorrectly labelled as Indian cuisine, the dish is widely served and catered by chefs of Bangladeshi origin, mostly migrants. A recent exhibition at the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery endeavoured to tell the untold stories of the true pioneers of Brummy curry. The exhibition “Knights Of The Raj” unveiled the pioneering efforts of the harbingers of the culinary revolution to the British shores. Knights Of The Raj opened its doors to the public back on September 22, 2017. It is set to end on January 14, 2018 after nearly four months of adulation. The city of Birmingham, with the second-largest population – both Bangali and overall – outside of London, is often noted for its Balti curry, which involves serving the curry in the same metallic bucket it is cooked in. The Balti, with its roots in Pakistani-Kashmiri cuisine has remained a staple in the curry scene in the city and beyond since the 70s. But the Indian curry purveyed by Bangalis dates back to World War 2 and is remarkably different. According to a BBC report, Abdul Aziz from the Bengal region in undivided India made the journey to England while working as a sailor on a ship. He found love in an Irish woman who taught him the English language and the British ways, in particular an enduring sense of sartorial swagger which played a huge role in his future. In 1945, Aziz bought out John’s Restaurant in the heart of the city where he began offering curry and rice in 1954. The dish, bristling with spices, had to be altered to cater to the British tongue which was till then familiar with only the milder spectrum of culinary pizzazz. He renamed the restaurant The Darjeeling, which soon became a popular haunt for lawyers and policemen. But it was Aziz’s innate Bangali nature, to be intimately acquainted with visitors and establish enduring relationships with every customer which made The Darjeeling the foundation of curry culture in Birmingham. Aziz became a cornerstone of the Bangali community as he patronized aspiring immigrants fresh off the boat and gave them a launchpad through his restaurant. https://youtu.be/O_iqRv18xrw The notion of home delivery sprang from their son John Kazi when Mozamil graciously offered to deliver the food to desperate customers who could not visit the restaurant. Nuruzzuman Khan, the man who revolutionized the art of serving curry with his acute sense of dining practices, used the Bombay restaurant to further popularize the dish. He was the first to introduce the practice of serving curry directly at the table. The sight of spoonfuls of rice being scooped out, compounded with the curry dished out in copious amounts, not to mention the olfactory extravaganza, painted a glamorous portrait of the exotic spicy Indian curry in Birmingham minds.   The popularity had its drawbacks, often in the form of troublesome customers, nicknamed “khasrah customer” who would “eat and run.” Organizer Mohammed Ali, a graffiti artist who runs the organization Soul City Arts, told the Birmingham Mail that he intends to use the exhibition to bring the focus on the crucial role Bangladeshis played to popularize curry across UK.   He said: “There is a lack of confidence among Bangladeshis when they see their food referred to as ‘Indian’ and I now want the people of my father’s generation to be recognized. For British Bangladeshis to know this story is to know ourselves, our families, our community and our achievements.” Ali, a recipient of the Member of the British Empire honour for his artistic contributions, has plans to reproduce the exhibition in London and New York in the future, but more performance-based.   [caption id="attachment_240142" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] A number of curry pioneers pose for a photo during the exhibition on the history of curry in Birmingham Knights Of The Raj[/caption] The exhibition saw a huge turnout, and saw many of the pioneers return to reminisce and interact with the second-generation and third-generation curry chefs. Roger Gwynn, alias Roger Master, an Englishman who worked at several Bangali-owned curry houses and is known as an honorary Bangali, was also featured at and attended the event. Curry, in its all grease and glory, was celebrated through the exhibition. Ali in particular noted that the young generation came to experience the history of curry and left with a renewed passion for the culture of Bangladeshi food.
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