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India to Get a Taste of 'British' Curries

It was once hailed as Britain's national dish, but chicken tikka masala -- the spicy "Indian" curry popular throughout the United Kingdom -- has remained largely a mystery on the subcontinent.

Now one of Britain's most celebrated chefs, Manju Malhi, wants to change that by introducing this favourite and other British-and-Indian fused foods to Indian palates.

Malhi is shooting a television cooking show in New Delhi promoting British cuisine with an Indian twist, a combination she has dubbed Brit-Indi, and which has made her famous back in Britain.

On the menu during the 40-part series are mango crumble, baked beans balti, couscous salad and the Scottish dessert cranachan, with mangoes replacing traditional raspberries.

"People here think British food is just roast beef and burgers and chips," said Malhi, who is hosting the series for private local NDTV network.

"I am trying to fly the flag for British food, which is really vast and varied," she said.

Malhi, whose parents emigrated from India in the 1960s, is, however, aware of the challenges of winning over Indian audiences.

Unlike in Britain, where celebrity chefs such as Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver are household names, India has only a handful of television cooking shows and fewer well-known chefs.

And British food has found little favour in India despite the fact the region was a British colony for centuries. Indian and Chinese restaurants are the most popular choices for eating out.

But Malhi remains confident.

"A good show is all about packaging. It's about making the food look sexy -- the way you drizzle oil slowly, soft focus lighting, like a music video," she said during a break from shooting back-to-back episodes.

Her recipe for success back in Britain is simple: use ingredients that are readily available in stores, such as bread and beans.

Many of the dishes in the series are from her first book "Brit Spice", published in 2002, in which she shows how to rustle up easy meals out of British ingredients with added Indian spices.

She has adopted the same technique here, albeit with different ingredients.

"On the show, I will replace some of these ingredients with those that are easier to get (in India)," Malhi said.

Soya chunks will be used instead of tofu, chicken sausages rather than pork ones, and lamb and mutton will replace beef, as many Indians do not eat pork and beef for religious reasons.

She also hopes to steer Indians brought up on fried food to roasting, grilling and baking.

"I won't call my show an invasion. I am not going to say 'give up your cuisine'," said Malhi.

She was brought up in London, where her home-made Indian lunch used to be greedily lapped up by her colleagues at the BBC, where she did voice-over work.

"They would love the pakodas (fried dumplings), pulao rices and kebabs and ask for recipes. That's how I started writing down my recipes," she said.

In 1999, Malhi won a cooking show competition on the BBC, and her first book was finally published after 50 rejections.

She followed it up with "India with Passion" two years later. The upcoming "Easy India" will come with a music compact disc to "encourage people to cook."

The 30-something Malhi will, however, steer clear of dishes not likely to go down well in India.

Black pudding which is cooked in blood, usually from a pig, and tripe and onions are a strict no-no on the show.

"I will not introduce cod roe either. It's an acquired taste."

But chicken tikka masala, which former government minister Robin Cook once said was the national dish because it showed how well Britain absorbed outside influences, was on the menu.

"The idea is to have fun b y doing something different. After all, I love spices. The British love spices. Everybody loves spices," she said.


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