Everything you need to know about Indian vegetarian food in Britain
The history of curry in Britain is a long one.
The word curry originates from the Tamil word ‘kari’ which means spiced sauce, and this word quickly became the umbrella term for any type of spiced Indian dish, no matter what its origins.
The curry has long been a British favourite, with Queen Victoria leading the charge when she became Empress of India, serving an Indian dish at every meal. Soon, every cookbook contained a curry recipe, although many of these were designed as a way of using up leftovers.
Of course, none of these dishes were authentic, being modified not only for the sensitive British palate, but for the ingredients that people had to hand.
For example, apples were used instead of tamarind, and of course there was the invention of the ever-popular readymade curry powders, which had no resemblance to the native cuisine.
Vegetarian Indian food
Britain may have claimed chicken tikka masala as its national dish, but traditionally, there is a very wide variety of vegetarian Indian food.
There are several reasons for this. For some it has been a religious decision. In the east, there are many religions who advocate a vegetarian diet like Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism – to them the purity of the mind and body is important, and a vegetarian diet is considered part of this. It also reduces the amount of suffering to other living things, so while Hinduism doesn’t require a diet without meat, many are vegetarian as part of their beliefs.
India has the largest population of vegetarians in the world, but even amongst non-vegetarians, meat consumption is very low. Why is this? It’s because meat brings lethargy, with scientists today saying that it can take 48 to 72 hours to fully digest meat, whereas vegetables and fruits digest in hours.
Of course, there are other additional factors, like religious beliefs and India being a largely agricultural country.
The most important part of any meal in the Indian diet is the carbs, be it rice or naan, and then vegetables and legumes such as lentils.
Meat comes last, which is why there is so much amazing vegetarian or vegan Indian food to choose from.
A Slow Decline In Indian Restaurants
There are currently over 12,000 Indian takeaways in Britain, but the business is changing, and many are now struggling, with reports that up to two a week are closing down.
Part of this is due to second-generation immigrants’ reluctance to take over the family business. With almost 90% of Indian restaurants run by Bangladeshis, as well as Britain’s determination to keep net migration down, bringing in more skilled workers just isn’t realistic.
This staffing shortage, along with continued competition from chain restaurants, is unfortunately leaving many Indian curry houses with no choice other than to close their doors for good.
South Indian Cuisine
Luckily, there are still some South Indian restaurants that aren’t slowing down but thriving.
Less well known on the British food scene are South Indian & Gujarati cuisine, which is mostly very healthy. The staple diet in south India is rice and coconut as it grows in abundance.
Masala Dosa is the most famous South Indian dish. It’s made from rice and lentils and much less oil is needed to cook it. Idli is another healthy dish, which is a steamed rice dumpling with less than 1% oil.
In our humble opinion – and in the opinion of our many happy customers – Sanskruti is one of the best Indian restaurants in Liverpool and Manchester. We make delicious, high-quality south Indian cuisine, and all of it is either vegetarian or vegan.
Using traditional recipes from different regions, including Punjabi and Gujarati cuisine, we want the regional variations in our food to be apparent, so you can really taste the difference that this brings to our menu.
One of the things that Punjabi cuisine is most well-known for is its creamy rich dishes like coconut kormas. Punjab is in North of India and they use lot of cream in their dishes, to create the richness in the curry which has always been popular to the British palate.
Some of these dishes at Sanskruti are made with Alpro Vegan Soya Single Cream to replace diary cream, thus some of our dishes are marked with ‘CV’ which means it can be made vegan.
The chana masala, or chickpea masala, is a traditional Punjabi dish which is cooked alongside onions, tomatoes, garlic and hot spices. It’s even taken on top of puri bread as a breakfast dish!
Another iconic Punjabi ingredient is paneer (also known as Indian cottage cheese). This is a popular cheese that has been made by farmers for centuries from the produce of their livestock.
Paneer is high in protein and here at Sanskruti we make our own Paneer every day. Paneer has long been a major part of a vegetarian Indian diet and is well known in dishes like Kadai Paneer, Mutter Paneer, Shahi Paneer etc.
Gujarat is known as ‘the jewel of Western India’. It is well known for flavourful, healthy vegetarian dishes, the only place for Asiatic lions, an unusual ban on alcohol for over 60 years, and of course being the birth place of Mahatma Gandhi.
Spices and seasonings are very important to this region, including turmeric, cumin, asafoetida, curry leaves, cardamom and mint. Potatoes and gourds feature heavily, as does rice, millet breads and daal or lentils.
Vatana Bateta is a flavoursome dish of potatoes, green peas and curry leaves mixed with green chilli and lemon juice, while something like a Kela nu Shaak is much milder and sweeter due to the presence of ripe banana. Gujarati cuisine is packed with flavour, with some combinations that you wouldn’t normally ever think of, but when you try them, you’ll understand why they work so well.
Sanskruti means ‘tradition’ or ‘culture’ and that is what we believe in with our food, delivering authentic Indian cuisine to our customers.
If you want to try our vegetarian and vegan Indian food give us a call and book a table.