Chicken Tikka Masala

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Chicken Tikka Masala actually originated in Britain, and not in India.

Chicken Tikka Masala is probably the most popular Indian dish in the world. It is widely considered Britain's national dish; indeed, its popularity has proven so great that almost every Indian restaurant worldwide now offers it. It has conquered even the Indian subcontinent, and has arguably replaced Tandoori Chicken as the flagship of Indian food.

Chicken Tikka Masala clearly originated from the kitchens of Bangladeshi chefs in Britain. The original is claimed by many, from London to Glasgow, but none of these claims have been convincingly established. There are many theories about how the dish originated, probably around the late sixties. Some say the chef tossed together a tomato gravy when a diner returned a dry tikka, some think it was a way to recycle yesterday's leftover kebabs, others say it was just an inventive adaptation of Indian techniques to both Indian and British palates. The last is probably closest to the truth, given its almost universal appeal- but who knows? The closest preparation of known Indian origin is the popular Murgh Makhni (butter chicken) from the Punjab region, which also has a tomato gravy but does not require a tandoor. Given that a large percentage of Indian and Pakistani immigrants to Britain come from the Punjab, this is a very likely ancestor. Bangladeshis proved to be the most enthusiastic restaurateurs in the community so it was only natural that one of them brought together this gravy and the ubiquitous chicken tikka kebabs.

Chicken Tikka Masala, as the name suggests, is Chicken Tikka kebabs in a masala. Tikka is marinated pieces of meat cooked in a tandoor, while masala'is merely another name for a gravy. There is thus no standard recipe for Chicken Tikka Masala, but the commonest forms are variants of some kind of tomato gravy (puree or even ketchup) with cream or coconut cream and various common spices. Interestingly, while fish and paneer tikkas are very common, the corresponding tikka masalas are not as popular.

Can Chicken Tikka Masala be considered Indian food? There seems to be little choice in the matter; whatever its geographic origins, it is unarguably associated today with Indian food everywhere in the world - even by Indians.

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