One great thing about curry is that it is adored the world over. Indian food has definitely travelled far and wide. However, the history of chicken tikka masala is up for debate. While it is an Indian dish, you might be surprised at its supposed origins! If you want to know where does chicken tikka masala come from, you are in the right place. Today we look at the origins of the famous dish, describe what it is, and dig into the ingredients to see if we can unearth any clues.
Let's jump right in…
Quick Answer | Where Does Chicken Tikka Masala Come from?
Chicken tikka masala is one of the most well recognized Indian dishes on the planet. What we do know is that it was invented and developed in an Indian restaurant. This is not debated. The controversy comes surrounding the circumstances.
The main theory behind the claim that it was invented in the UK is that it was created when a dry dish of chicken tikka was made saucier with tomato soup, cream and some mild spices.
Whether this is really true is up for debate.
Here's a video interview with the director of the restaurant that claims the above story is true:
What do you think?
What is Chicken Tikka Masala?
Chicken tikka masala is a mild curry dish with a creamy tomato base. When I say mild, I mean really mild. On a scale of 1 – 10, with 10 being blisteringly hot, tikka masala sits firmly right at the start of a scale.
It doesn't contain any chilli whatsoever and is made with mild ingredients like cream.
The 'tikka' part of chicken tikka masala comes from how the chicken contained within the dish is marinated. Each restaurant has a slightly different tikka marinade, but you can expect the chicken to be soaked in a mixture of lemon juice, yoghurt, and mild, fragrant spices.
Chicken tikka is normally cooked by putting chunks of the marinated meat onto skewers and roasting them in a grill or in a tandoor. This is then removed and added to the masala sauce.
What Does Chicken Tikka Masala Taste Like?
When it comes to the sauce, it is heavenly. The dish is really creamy (in fact, it features cream as one of its key ingredients). The dish has a smooth tomato base. However, it is not particularly acidic. In fact, it can taste quite sweet.
You'll find that it also features ground almonds and coconut flour and might even include a sweetening agent like sugar or a chutney.
The dish isn't too heavy on curry spices. The main flavouring comes from a mixture of garam masala and tandoori masala, both of which are pretty mild.
What Does Tikka Mean in Indian?
Tikka does not refer to either spices or a cooking style. In fact, the Urdu word 'tikka' is derived from the Turkic word 'tikku'. This loosely translates as 'chunk' or 'lump'.
While the word is a loose translation, you can actually see it in action in your dish. Chicken tikka masala normally features chunks of chicken that have been marinated and are often grilled in a hot tandoor! The tandoor will give your chicken chunks an almost barbecued taste
Where was the Chicken Tikka Masala Invented?
So… Let's get down to it. Here's the theory of the origins of chicken tikka masala.
Tikka Masala and the Glaswegian Bus Driver
There is a theory that the world-famous chicken tikka masala was not invented in India but was invented in the UK! The theory goes something like this: -
On a dark and stormy night in the 1970s, a bus driver, after a hard day dropping off passengers and driving around Glasgow, stopped at the Shish Mahal for a curry.
Upon receiving his dish, he was unhappy and said that it was too dry. The dish was returned to the kitchen, where the chef improvised and added a can of tomato soup and some cream and spices.
The bus driver was delighted and wolfed it down… The UKs favourite dish was born. (allegedly).
While it's a nice story, there are quite a few holes in it…
Why would an Indian restaurant have cans of tomato soup? It doesn't tend to feature on the menu? Also, why has no Scottish bus driver ever come along and said that he was the first person in the world to eat chicken tikka masala? Finally, why would someone order chicken tikka and then expect sauce?
Ask at your local Indian Takeaway and see if they make it with tomato soup…
No, of course, they don't.
Interestingly Glasgow has applied to be named the birthplace of the chicken tikka masala, seeking the protected designation of origin (PDO).
You know how champagne must come from the champagne region of France, and Tennessee whisky has to come from Tennessee?
Glasgow wants the rules to say that a proper chicken tikka masala must come from Glasgow!
What's Most Likely?
Nobody denies that 'CTM' has Indian origins.
As with most 'British' curries, the truth is likely that the tikka masala was adapted from a exported variation of an Indian dish to suit the British palette.
The fact that many curry dishes tick many similar boxes should indicate that the tikka masala wasn't a 'happy accident'.
Both butter chicken and chicken korma have broadly similar taste profile and attributes. Both of which have roots firmly in India.
They are, in fact, different dishes…
Is Chicken Tikka Masala British or Indian?
Here's the real answer.
Chicken tikka masala is both British and Indian!
It is British because it is cooked and served nationwide. It is considered the nations favourite choice when it comes to curry!
Is this the theft of a dish?
Not at all! It celebrates the multiculturalism of British cuisine! So much so that in 2001 Robin Cook, the home secretary of Great Britain at the time, declared it to be the UK's national dish. Ahead of things you'd suspect as being stereotypically British such as roast beef or Fish and chips!
Many have even described it as one of the worlds first examples of fusion cuisine!
Think about it logically. Would you say French fries are truly French? Or are they American?
It is Indian because it is normally cooked in Indian restaurants and shares lots of characteristics with other Indian dishes:-
- It uses garam masala
- It uses base gravy
- It uses chicken tikka (which is definitely an Indian dish)
- It was invented in an Indian restaurant
Chicken Tikka Masala Origins | Final Thoughts…
Where does chicken tikka masala come from? Who cares! It is utterly delicious and is great if you aren't a huge fan of fiery curries. What do you reckon? Is the Glasgow story a load of hot air? Or did a bus driver really happen to find an Indian restaurant with tins of Campbell's tomato soup on the menu? Let me know in the comments.