british influence on indian food

British Influence on Indian Food – What Did The British Eat in India?

The British ruled over the Indians for 2 centuries. It is inevitable to not leave their imprints on us. From our city plans to the constitutional structure to our food and culture, the British have left their mark.

We know that Indian cuisine has been influenced by many factors over the centuries. From the time of Ramayana to the present day, uncountable forces have left their imprints on our food.

The colonial era is the most recent to be added to the list. The only difference being, they not only influenced our cuisine but also birthed a new one.

From spices to vegetables and fruits to meat dishes, the Britishers influenced us in every possible way. Let us look at the various facets of the same.

Anglo-Indian Cuisine History

Anglo-Indian is made up of two words, anglo meaning English and Indian is well, belonging to India. Anglo-Indian cuisine developed during the British Raj in India. The wide array of combinations of Indian and English dishes was looked up to as new cuisine, the Anglo-Indian cuisine.

While their long and tiring rule over India, the British rubbed off their little details over our cuisine. This cuisine later became widely popular among the masses.

You might wonder how it all started, so let’s dive deep into the history of the matter. 

Back in the colonial era, British officers used to travel by ocean to the Indian landmass. Throughout such a long time, their food supplies were naturally exhausted by the time they reached here.

In such a case, they turned to the Indian dishes here and developed a taste for it. 

Besides, the residing British officers found it difficult to find regular British vegetables, like potatoes, carrots, cauliflowers, etc, in India. The solution they come up with ways to cook the same dishes but with Indian vegetables and spices.

Although, later the British started growing their vegetables on Indian land as well. Surprisingly, the Indians fell in love with them as the world knows.

It was not just the Britishers that initiated the beginning of a new cuisine but the Indians too. The Indian counterparts of the Britishers grew intimidated by the western ways and food.

Indian babus went home to their wives demanding to cook the same dishes as their British masters brought in lunch. The poor wives complied with their husbands’ orders to the best they could.

British Colonial Indian Food

There wasn’t any drastic or significant turn of events that led to the revolution that came by in the colonial era. The changes crept slowly but steadily from 1757 to 1857.

When we talk about food, it is not just about the dishes but also about what constitutes the dishes. Everything ranging from vegetables to spices come under the banner of food.

  1. Spices

Spices are the prime essence of any delicacy. The Britishers came to India for its spices. This is how rich the Indian subcontinent is. 

However, one place cannot hold all the treasures of the world. When Britishers came they brought along their spices that found a welcome home in India.

Many new spices were added to Indian cookery during the British rule at that time. Varieties of significant spices such as chili, pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves were popularized by the British. 

Indian households, though hesitant at first, grew fond of them. The housewives and cooks experimented their way with the spices, tasting their tinge, enhancing the preloved dishes with an extra feather.

  1. Vegetables

We all know that Indian cuisine is full of dishes that have umpteen variations of potato. Another inevitable veggie without which every curry is incomplete is also British, it is none other than tomatoes.

Many vegetables like potatoes, tomatoes, pumpkin, carrots, cabbages, cauliflowers, and more were all foreign to the Indian land once. 

Initially, British officers grew these vegetables in their kitchen gardens and lawns. When their Indian servants got a taste of these, the vegetables soon gained popularity.

And today, a century later, most people are blissfully unaware of the real origin and history of these vegetables. They gladly call it their own.

  1. Fruits 

Fruits like apples, papaya, pomegranates, and pineapple are also not rightfully ours to call. They were induced in our culture by the British rulers.

They brought with them these fruits and then started growing them here, on our land. The workers working in these fields and plantations were then paid in the form of spoilt and over-ripe fruits.

The Indians were happy as they were being given exotic fruits that they had never even seen or heard the name of. Soon, the so-called exotic fruits were available to the local public.

  1. Beverages 

We might say that tea is Indian and yes it is but if it weren’t for the Britishers we would still be unaware of our natural products. 

Before the Britishers came along, tea grew in wild and large amounts in open fields of Assam. They organized and built tea gardens there.

Other beverages that the Britishers brought along besides tea are coffee, whiskey, gin, and tonic among others. Coffee is also a gift from them and not indigenous southern India.

As for gin and tonic, it was a way of revamping the bitter medicinal tonics into an easier dosage.

  1. Bakery 

Before the British came, Indians only knew sweets made out of various flours and milk products. They knew less about baking or even the process of it.

Britishers, back home, religiously consumed bread and cakes. It was nothing out of place for them. However, when they came to India, they were unable to find any bakery as there were none.

Then the colonialists trained Indians closely and set up bakeries near their establishments to have a regular supply for themselves. This is how bread and cakes came into existence for Indians.

  1. Dishes

During the British rule in India, local British officials started merging Indian dishes with their British palates and creating Anglo-Indian cuisine, with dishes such as kedgeree, mulligatawny soup, and pish pash. 

Other well-known Anglo-Indian dishes include chutneys, salted beef tongue, fish rissoles, vindaloo, kalkals, and rode cookies. 

The chutneys of Anglo-Indian cuisine are cooked and sweetened but not highly spiced preparation of fruit, nuts, or vegetables. This is so because the Britishers did not prefer extreme spicy food.

What Did The British Eat When in India?

It is a curious question that what would the Britishers have eaten back when they lived in Inda. Since everything is well-recorded by historians and scholars of the time. We have the answer!

Back in the years when the East India Company first came to Indian shores, most administrators arrived without their families. This meant that most of the cooking was done for them by their Indian servants and mistresses. 

Since the servants were Indian, the best they could offer was the royal food but Indian. However, it is well -known that the British love meat and lots of it. At that time, alike today, the majority of Indians were vegetarian.

Fowl and mutton were the only meat for the British in India because beef and pork were hard to get in India due to Hindu and Muslim communities. At important dinners and social events, European food was the only acceptable food. Curry being easy to make and available in large varieties, dominated most meals. 

mulligatawny soup
Image: Mulligatawny Soup – Source

Hence, a party at an administrators’ house in India would be the same as one in England. As for non-official meals, Indian food was made to be an important part, such as breakfast.

As their rule spread over the country, a change was observed in the British administrators’ lifestyle. Women more regularly made the voyage from Britain and having an Indian mistress became less common. 

Later, the English women wrote down English recipes for their Indian servants to cook. Though, the servants unintentionally spurred the recipe to taste in entirely different.

Eventually, such dishes became a part of the present Anglo-Indian cuisine.

When Did Indian Food Come To Britain?

Indian food traveled to Britain in the 1930s with the help of Veeraswamy Restaurant. At that time it produced many delectable dishes such as kedgeree, mulligatawny, and pish pash to exotic English palates. One Indian food that has had a lasting impact on English cuisine is chutney.

Image: Kedgeree – Source

It was opened keeping in mind the British way of things. It had the best food and besides a separate room for smoking alike any other restaurant in the city.

However, the first known Indian restaurant in England was the Hindoostanee Coffee House which opened in 1809 in London.

Presently, there are more than 19,000 Indian restaurants that run successfully across Europe.

British Curry vs Indian Curry

Curry is something that the Indians and Britishers share in their cuisine. However, the similarity is just a name-deep. Anything beyond the word is not similar between the two.

India is worldwide known as the home of all exotic and luscious curries. The term “curry” in India is very vague. Due to the diversity of the Indian culture and area, it can refer to hundreds of dishes from different regions and cultures. 

For a fact, the word curry means just the sauce and not the whole dish.  The English tend to believe that curry is used to describe a complete meal, similar to soup. 

Indian curries are sourer and less thick than their English counterparts. In India, each sauce is specially made for each meat, complementing it perfectly. On the other hand, the British curry is the same for all their meat. They tend to focus on the meat part more than the curry.

Also, Indian curries tend to start with a base of garlic, onion, and ginger, with spices added to make a thicker sauce, finally followed by the remaining ingredients, whatever they are – meat, potato, vegetables, rice, etc. 

As in the case of British Curry, the word curry has come to mean any kind of dish which is inspired by Indian cuisine and consists of a meat-and-sauce based formula.

indian curry

Since tomatoes were introduced back at the beginning of the 17th century, tomatoes are used extensively, particularly in Northern Indian cuisine.

It may come as a surprise for curry lovers but UK’s favorite Indian dish, the chicken tikka masala, is not an authentic Indian curry. The dish is based on butter chicken, a very popular and tasty dish eaten in several Indian states. 

However, the Indian version is very spicy and nothing sweet. The British version of Butter Chicken is far sweeter than the traditional Indian butter chicken recipe.

The first recorded mention of curry in English cuisine dates back to 1747 when only coriander seeds and black pepper were used to impart the flavor. 

Nowadays, Punjabi cooking has become the definition of the cooking methods of Indian food in the UK. It uses a lot of potatoes, lentils spinach, and paneer. 

A number of the original curry houses founded in the 20th century were run by Bengali migrants. The food from this region has also heavily influenced the British perceptions of what a curry should be like.

In the UK as well, chilies are often used to mask the taste of a dish. They are given a heat ranking of the mild, medium, hot and fiery, for those feeling adventurous as British do not eat spicy food.

In India, the spicier the better is followed. The flavor is the key point on which a meal is commented on. 

Difference Between Indian and Pakistani Biryani – Which Is Better?


India was a British colony for 2 centuries. Many generations were born and died under their rule. It was that long. It is natural to leave deep imprints on people, culture, and cuisine in such a long time.

British greatly influenced Indian food culture and at the same time adopted many peculiarities of us too. They brought with them a new wave of food and culture that intertwined with our’s, gracefully.

After almost a century of independence, the distinctions of the differences have become to blur. The stories of influence become vaguer with every new generation.

We gladly now call theirs as ours for it is so. If this article helped have a clear picture of the influences, do spread the love. Share it with your friends and family.