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Friday, 28 November 2014

All Aboard the Darjeeling Himalayan Express!



After a week experiencing the sights and sounds of steamy Kolkata a trip up to the airy Himalayan hill station of Darjeeling sounded like a romantic adventure.

We could have flown or driven there, but why do things the easy way when we had the might of the Indian railway at our disposal? I’m not talking about just any old railway – I'm talking about the Darjeeling HimalayanRailway or, as it's affectionately known, the Toy Train – a World Heritage, narrow gauge track that crawls up impossibly steep slopes to a height of 7,218 feet for nine long hours.


For anyone who wants an unforgettable experience, unparalleled views and a numb backside, the Toy Train is the only way to travel. For a start, it's the most outstanding example of a hill station railway. First opened in 1881 to bring tea, cereals and coal down from the Himalayas, the railway is an incredible feat of engineering made up of a series of loops and reverses which propel the engine up the mountain at gradients of 1 to 20. Rumbling over 554 bridges, the winding track crosses the road 126 times with spectacular changes in scenery, perilous bends and exotic views, all the way up to the Himalayas.



The story of the railway goes back to 1879 when the journey from the plains of Siliguri to Darjeeling took three days via a precipitous Cart Road. Franklin Prestage, the official of the Darjeeling Tramway Company who had the task of finding a way to get the engine up the mountain, was almost on the verge of giving up when his wife gave him some advice: “If you can't go forward, why don't you go back?” This inspired him to create six reverses along the 87.48km route where the train zig-zags backwards before continuing in a parallel fashion at a higher level, thus providing a solution for railway engineers all over the world (as well as proving that the lady always knows best). 





We caught the overnight Darjeeling Mail, to arrive in the sprawling town of Siliguri, as the diesel Toy Train chugged into New Jalpaiguri station for its daily journey. We had been advised to book at least two days in advance – wisely - for despite the train's diminutive appearance, there was nothing small about the number of people crammed into its every orifice. Like the Earl of Ronaldshay who made the journey in 1920, I began to “receive the whimsical idea” that I had “accidentally stumbled into Lilliput.” Think along the lines of Hornby. Lack of space posed less of a problem for locals who seemed to be of a smaller stature but for the rest of us, knees knocking together on wooden facing benches, the seating arrangements offered an unparalleled intimacy beyond the yen of the rumpled traveller so early in the morning. But after all ... what could we expect for a £3 trip of a lifetime? We were cheered to discover that we could order dinner from the station which comprised a rather liquid curry with rice and chappatis. This, although very welcome, was rather cold by lunchtime.    

With our noses pressed against the windows and heads sometimes lolling out of them at risk of decapitation and horn blaring, the train began its meandering journey from the outskirts of Siliguri. Houses, iron huts and shops festooned with faded packets of crisps warming in the sun, passed within touching distance, as in a series of vignettes, we peered in on people's lives as they washed, shaved, had their hair cut, hung clothes out, waved at the train or even chased after the train. This was done with an inordinate amount of excitement considering it passed every day. However, with maximum speeds of 13km an hour, it
wasn't very difficult to catch it up.

After leaving the plains of Siliguri at Sukna station, the landscape began to change with an ascent through forests of teak and giant bamboo, dotted with fuchsias and orchids as we trundled past tea gardens and signs that told us (as if we wouldn’t notice them) to watch out for elephants. From Chunbhati we travelled to Rangtong, location of the first and longest reverse, where the steepest climb of the journey pushed us up to Tindharia. In the old days, passengers would stop for tea here for the spectacular views with glimpses of the foothills of the Himalayas; nowadays it holds the workshops of the railway and locomotive sheds. 

Many Europeans perished of jungle fever in the past and Tindharia also marked the point that was considered to be above the Terai Fever level. Leaving the station, we encountered Agony Point, the fourth loop with a minimum radius of 59 feet, where the train almost hangs over the hillside and then travelled up to Gayabari and the last reverse, to Mahanuddy 4,120 feet above sea level. Mad Torrent marks the half way point; a stream that can turn into a deluge during the rainy period. In July 1890 almost 800 ft of the road and line were washed away here. Near Mahanuddy station is a waterfall with a drop of 150 feet as the train then plods on towards Kurseong station passing jagged rocks and glorious views of the plains.





Our journey was enlivened by locals, schoolchildren and hawkers who hopped on and off the train for a free ride. Even more welcome invaders were the enterprising vendors who boarded with tiffin dishes full of steaming dumplings, brandishing huge kettles of sweet tea and coffee. The majority of paying passengers were Indian tourists. From time to time, a desultory sing song would start up but mostly, people chatted happily or attempted to sleep in contorted positions, resting on the shoulders or backs of friends and strangers.







Conversation was inevitable and as we were the only westerners on the train we were the object of some curiosity. We chatted to Aruna, a frank young girl travelling to visit relatives in a nearby village who had been married a month to a husband in Nepal. “Marriage is very horrible,” she confided cheerfully, “Arranged marriage is bad; love marriage is good. I don't like my husband - my life is so boring.” An elderly Nepalese man opposite was so fascinated by the maps in our Lonely Planet Guidebook that he nursed it lovingly until we got to Darjeeling when it took some persuasion to get it back.

Bordering on Nepal and Bhutan, the indigenous population of Darjeeling is made up of a mix of cultures and as we climbed higher there was a marked change in people's appearance to the striking, high cheek-boned features of Nepali and Tibetan origins. Clothes also changed,due to the colder climate with more functional wraps and cardigans worn over saris and traditional Tibetan woolly hats providing much needed warmth as the air became chillier. 



Seven hours into the journey and the end was in sight. From the thriving village of Kurseong the railway runs right through a bazaar. Stallholders had to whisk their wares off the tracks to let the train through as it travelled through Sonada towards Goom, the summit of the line and the highest station in India. Nearing Darjeeling, surroundings became more prosperous in contrast to the poverty we had left behind in Siliguri. Houses looked almost Alpine or resembled faded Victorian mansions, a legacy from colonial days. Catholic churches and schools alternated with lines of Tibetan prayer flags fluttering in the breeze. Children boarded the train wearing smart uniforms complete with blazers, reminiscent of the old British Grammar schools. Posters proclaimed support for a Gorkha homeland - in the 1980s, the region was a stronghold of the Gorkhaland National Front separatist movement who used to target the DHR as a symbol of central government with many riots, protests and even assassinations taking place.









 At the famous Batasia Loop, the train worked its way round a switchback track created in 1919 to lower the gradient. We extricated our aching limbs to view the war memorial to Gorkha soldiers who died in the war of Indian Independence with its stunning backdrop of the Himalayas including the world's third highest mountain, Mt Khangchendzonga, before re-folding ourselves back in to the train for its descent into Darjeeling and a welcome cup of tea.






The railway is currently running a limited service because of landslip so please look at www.dhrs.org for latest info. 

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Fancy something a bit spicy for breakfast?

Try Kedgeree ...


If you’re looking for an unusual weekend breakfast dish as an alternative to the ubiquitous bacon and eggs, kedgeree is the ultimate comfort food. 

The dish originated in India in the days of the British Raj and was brought to the UK by returning colonials who wanted to replicate the spicy dishes they had enjoyed on the subcontinent. 

Kedgeree reached its height of popularity in Victorian times when the dish was served at breakfast. The anglicised version traditionally involves smoked haddock but the original recipe is thought to date back to the fourteenth century when lentils and rice and (sometimes) fish were combined to make a dish known as Khichri.  This was also served at breakfast as a thrifty way of using up leftovers from the night before, accompanied by a spiced yoghurt drink.

The British version of Kedgeree can be eaten hot or cold and is deelicious …!!

Recipe for Kedgeree 

Serves Four

Ingredients:

  • One medium red onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • Two tomatoes
  • 3 eggs
  • 700gm undyed smoked haddock
  • 200gm basmati rice
  • Generous knob of butter (or ghee)
  • Handful of chopped chives
  • 2tsp grated fresh ginger
  • 2 heaped tbsp curry powder
  • 1 tbsp English mustard
  • 1 fresh red chilli
  • 1 pot sour cream 
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Fresh coriander
  • Salt and black pepper


Method:

  • Boil the eggs till hard boiled, peel and quarter.
  • Put fish and bay leaves into a pan with enough water to cover.
  • Bring to boil, cover and simmer for five minutes until cooked through.
  • Remove from pan, reserve water and remove skin (and bones if any).
  • Flake into chunks and set aside.
  • Melt butter in pan.
  • Stir in ginger, onion, garlic and curry powder.
  • Add chopped tomatoes and cook for a while.
  • Stir in rice (adding more butter if required)
  • Add reserved water, bring to boil and simmer until rice is tender (about 15mins).
  • When liquid has been absorbed, stir in mustard, flaked fish and lemon juice and allow to gently heat through.
  • Season to taste.
  • Add eggs, coriander and chilli and gently stir.
  • Sprinkle with chives and place in a warm serving dish.


Mix coriander into the soured cream and serve with kedgeree.

Serve with spiced yoghurt drink (optional).




Sunday, 26 October 2014

Dazzling Curry Life Chef Awards 2014




As we suspected, the Curry Life Chef Awards 2014 was a dazzling occasion!

On Sunday, 19th October 2014, the ballroom of LancasterLondon Hotel was buzzing with excitement as a colourful melee of glamorous guests, immaculate chefs, managers and restaurateurs gathered for Curry Life’s most impressive awards ceremony to date. The evening was also attended by international chefs, MPs by the dozen, dignitaries and inspirational figures from the curry industry, with over 700 guests in total. Madhu's caterers provided a banquet fit for gourmets.


The presenter was Cathy Newman,


influential journalist and broadcaster and a familiar figure on Channel 4 news. But of course, the heroes of the night were the chefs themselves – this year over 40 were recognised for their fantastic contribution to the Indian restaurant scene. Each was invited onto the stage to receive their awards accompanied by families and friends, while the audience had the chance to see them at work in their respective restaurants on the large screen video presentation.


As well as the Curry Life Chef Awards there were the special honours for exceptional work in the curry industry, including a Lifetime Achievement Award presented to Mohammed Tayyab of Tayyabs restaurant in Fieldgate Street. Mr Tayyab who came to the UK from Pakistan in 1964 to work in the garment industry, became renowned for his delicious Punjabi curries. Tayyabs is now celebrated across the whole of London and recently beat the French chef Raymond Blanc to the position of number 8 in the Zagat restaurant guide.

Special awards also went out to chef Utpal Mondal, Corporate Chef of HHI Group of Hotels and international chef Lars Windfuhr, Executive Chef of Park Hyatt, Hyderabad. The European Chef of the Year Award was received by chef Karim Razaul of Indian Garden in Stockholm.

Speeches from VIP guests included quotes from Winston Churchill and Mahatma Gandhi.

Chief Guest, Minister for Employment, the Rt Hon Esther McVey said the Awards combined some of her greatest passions of business and enterprise, family life, “authenticity and staying true to your roots”. “But one of my greatest passions is food, and in particular curry,” she continued, getting a loud cheer when she told of how she had spent the summer perfecting her cooking of Rogan Josh. The Minister went on to praise the SMEs which provided employment for millions in Britain, largely through the “grit and determination” of people like the guests in the room. She assured chefs and restaurant owners of the government’s continuing support through measures such as apprenticeships.

Samsun Sohail of Cobra Beer invoked a famous quote from Winston Churchill: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Mr Sohail said: “This is true of this industry – each and everybody here is an example of what he says – we have immigration problems, VAT, not getting work permits, but our industry has accepted this and has said ‘we will shine more, we will accomplish more, we will succeed’.” This meant greater revenue and more business for the country as a whole.


The CEO of Cobra Beer, Lord Karan Bilimoria speaking from Hyderabad thanked Curry Life magazine for what it was doing, not just in the magazine, but also in the chef awards and workshops, in Britain and abroad in India and Eastern Europe. “This continuing innovation is how businesses go from strength to strength,” he said.

He quoted his favourite saying of Mahatma Gandhi: “Your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your habits, your habits become your values, your values become your destiny.”

“Looking back we have gone through a tough time in the restaurant industry but we have not only survived, we have succeeded because the industry has the confidence to believe in itself,” he continued.

Mohammad Azad of Cafe Saffron, Shrewsbury receives an award
Rushnara Ali, MP for Bethnall Green and Bow, was proud to see her constituent, win the Lifetime Achievement Award, encapsulating the story of her own father’s generation who came to the UK in the fifties, and worked in the catering industry. “People like Mr Tayyab, along with my father, helped to build a curry empire worth £4billion which has enabled people like me to become MPs,” she said.

The Right Honourable Keith Vaz, MP, was aggrieved to find no-one from Leicester amongst the winners but congratulated Curry Life on a very successful event. “You have more MPs here this evening than we have in the House of Commons for some debates,” he joked, adding it was because all MPs know how important the British-Bangladeshi community is in the UK.

Frank Dobson MP brought a message of support from leader of the Labour party Ed Miliband who was unable to attend. Mr Miliband said the curry industry in Britain had continued to prosper even in difficult times and curry had become a part of British life. “Tonight is the opportunity to recognise the contribution chefs and restaurants have made to the British economy and culture and that is something to be proud of.”


But Festival Organiser, Syed Nahas Pasha got the biggest cheer of the evening when he spoke out for the curry industry: “We hear nothing but cuts from this government, but when are they going to cut VAT for the restaurant industry?” he said to loud applause.


Festival Organisers Syed Belal Ahmed and Syed Nahas Pasha
  
                                                                       



Syed Jaglul Pasha, Syed Nahas Pasha (editor), Cllr Jehangir Haque

Zoe Renfrew with Chef Utpal Mondal, Corporate chef HHI

Congratulations to all award winners! 


(Further details and many more photos of the evening will be in the next edition of Curry Life magazine):

Chef Alexander Crum Ewing
Owner: Dr Kowsar Haque
The Indian Dining Club, 244 Gipsy Road, London  SE27 9RB

Chef Mushfiqur Rahman
Delhi 6 Restaurant
12a Burnett Road, Little Aston, Sutton Coldfield  B74 3EJ

Chef Sharif Ahmed
Manager: Kowsar Choudhury
Radhuni Restaurant, 88-2 Ocean Road, South Shields, Tyne and Wear  NE33 2JD

Chef Habibur Rahman
Manager: Topon Alam
Ballingdon Valley Indian Cuisine, 57 Ballingdon Street, Sudbury, Suffolk  CO10 2DA

Chef Misbah Al Islam
Manager: Jakir islam
Yuva, High Street, Debden, Saffron Walden, Essex  CBII 3LE

Chef Syeduz Zaman Kamran
Manager: Syed Ali
Ozmi Indian Restaurant, 43-49 Winwick Road, Warrington  WA2 7DH

Chef Jamal Uddin Ahmed
Manager: Jalal Uddin Ahmed
Shozna Restaurnt, 153 Maidstone Road, Rochester, Kent  ME1 1RR

Chef Abdul Alim
Owner: Abdul Mujib
Village Modern Indian Cooking, 16 Warley Hill, Brentwood, Essex  CM14 5HA

Chef Tohur Ali
Manager: Azad Miah
The Shah Jahan Indian Restaurant, 111-113 South Western Road, Salisbury  SP2 7RR

Chef Amruj Ali
Manager: Anwar Ali
Massala Lounge, 57-59 Huddersfield Road, Holmfirth, Huddersfield   HD9 3JH

Chef Atikur Rahman
Manager: Badal Miah
Paprika Indian Restaurant, 27 Nightingale Road, Hitchin, Hertfordshire   SG5 1QU

Chef Liton Ahmed
Owner: Shahedur Rahman
Blue India, 59 High Street, Crawley, West Sussex  RH10 1BQ

Chef Mohammed Miah
Manager: Karim Miah
Spice Club, 10 Eastover, Bridgwater, Somerset  TA6 5AB

Chef Jammal Uddin
Westwood East Bangladeshi Cuisine
Westwood House, Eleanor Street, Oldham  OL1 2NN

Chef Khalis Rahman
Banana Leaf Indian Cuisine
47 Bethel Road, Seven Oaks, Kent  TN13 3UE

Chef Suruk Miah
Master Chef Luton Limited
76a Hart Lane, Luton  LU2 0JG

Chef Muhamed Deen Jitu
Manager: Mikayeel Deen
Champagne Signature Restaurant, 10 Pomona Place, Hereford   HR4 0EF

Chef Nasihur Rahman
Owner:  Kamal Hussain
Shajahan Indian Restaurant, 62 High Street, Kingsthorpe, Northampton  NN2 6QE

Chef Abdus Sahid
Village Indiya, 29 Lodge Lane, Grays, Essex  RM17 5RY

Chef Boshiur Rahman
Manager: Kawsar Rahman
Monsoon Indian Cuisine, Northport, Wareham, Dorset   BH20 4AT

Chef Mohammed Mohi Uddin
Owner:  Mohammed Mizanur Rahman
Adnan’s Indian Restaurant, 137-139 Market Street Hyde, Cheshire  SK14 1HG

Chef Mohammad Azad
Manager:  Abdul Husen
CafĂ© Saffron, 25 Hill’s Lane, Shrewsbury  SY1 1QU

Chef Azizur Rahman
Owner: Moksud Miah
Delhi Divan, 18 Lower Gungate, Tamworth, Staffordshire   B79 7AL

Chef Abdul Malik
Manager: Dilwar Hussain
Raj of India, 16 Hall Grove, Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire   AL7 4PH

Chef Shohid Ahmed
Manager: Azad Miah
Shikara Indian Cuisine, 181 Whitley Road, Whitley Bay, Tyne & Wear  NE26 2DN

Chef Mohammed Anwar Hussain
Owner:  Abdul Malik
The Jaipur Spice, Busby Stoop Inn, Thirsk, North Yorkshire   Y07 4EQ

Chef Mohammed Ruhul Alm
Owner: Miah Monirul Alam
Kashmir Tandoori Restaurant, 20 Palace Street, Canterbury, Kent  CT1 2DZ

Chef Sundor Ali
Owner: Amir Hussain and Habibur Rahman
Rupali Restaurant, 335-337 Tile Hill Lane, Tile Hill, Coventry  CV4 9DU

Chef Shamin Ahmed
Owner:  Shamsu Miah
Gulshan Tandoori, 3 High Street, The Precinct, Broxbourne, Hertfordshire  EN10 7HY

Chef Juber Ahmed
Manager:  Anis Haque
Fetcham Tandoori, 248 Cobham Road, Fetcham, Surrey   KT22 9JF

Chef Misba Uddin Ahmed
Vujon Indian Restaurant
Unit 3B, Astle Park, High Street, West Bromwich  B70 8EN

Chef Abdul Hay
Manager: Haron Ahmed
iNaga Restaurant, 84 Croydon Road, Coney Hall,West Wickham  BR4 9HY



Curry Life would like to thank all sponsors of the event: Jaguar, Cobra Beer, Lebara, annecto uk, curries online, Pasco, M, travel life, Currylife Figovec, Goldstar Chefs, Chivas, Belu Cobra Foundation.

Also thanks to all our supporters: Samson Sohail, Nobab Uddin, Amin Ali of Red Fort, Pegasus Textiles, Amirul Chowdhury, Musleh Uddin Ahmed, Biren Parikh, Preet Singh, Golam Faruque, Allam S. Ullah, Abul Monsur Jewel, Muhibur Rahman, Amjad Sahel, Mohammed Azad Hussain, Molay Chandan Shaha



Wednesday, 22 October 2014

The Great Curry Taste Off!


Can a readymade supermarket curry really compete with one bought from an Indian takeaway?

According to a report from consumer analyst NPD group, Indian restaurants and takeaways are facing hot competition from the supermarkets. Apparently, ethnic restaurants have suffered a decline of 123 million visits over three years. Meanwhile supermarket sales of readymade Indian curries have soared.

But can a supermarket product really compare with the recipes, processes and spice blends used in an Indian restaurant?

Curry Life decided to find out.  We invited 20 ‘judges’ comprising chefs, caterers, restaurant critics, cookery writers, supermarket employees and a few curryholics to exercise their taste buds in an exclusive Curry Taste Off!

The aim was to sample, compare and judge ten different versions of Britain’s favourite Chicken Tikka Masala and (less favourite) dish of vegetable curry. Eight dishes were from the major supermarkets and two from the typical Indian takeaway down the road. All tasting was anonymous and tasters had no idea which curry came from where.  And after some serious slurping, concentrated chewing and inward digesting, we got some very interesting feedback. Here are the judges’ comments (in no particular order), with the final rankings revealed at the end …

  • Waitrose Chicken Tikka Masala and Rice  £3.89  400g  SCORE:  75


Supermarket description: A rich tandoori spiced cream and tomato sauce served with pilau rice.

Chicken content: Diced chicken breast 14% (rice was 13%).

The verdict: Our tasters were united in liking the creamy flavour, although the curry was generally judged to be a bit on the bland side. Cumin and cardamom spices were discerned. Comments included: “The meat is very smooth but a bit dry.” “Nice level of spice.” “Creamy and pale - possibly too pale to be authentic.” “Good spicy aftertaste.” “Chicken seems a bit processed but the sauce is lovely!” “Very nice - creamy and tomatoey, but not full of flavour.” “I can taste spices but it’s more like a Korma.” “Chewed on a cardamom pod!” wailed one taster, whilst another got a strong taste of cashew nuts.

Chef’s comment: “Bland to start with, then a nice hint of spice. Well balanced flavours. Chicken a bit soggy – probably cheap chicken was used in this dish.”


  • Asda Chicken Tikka Masala with Pillau Rice - £1.50 450g   SCORE: 58
Supermarket description:  Marinated pieces of succulent chicken breast in our spicy, creamy sauce with tomato, yoghurt and a touch of chilli.

Chicken content: Cooked marinated chicken breast (28%), Chicken breast (96%) (pillau rice 36%).

The verdict: Testers were divided on this one – while some loved it, others found little to praise. Comments ranged from an enthusiastic “Authentic taste, enjoyed it”, and “Really tasty! This has got to be the ‘real’ curry!” to “Chicken is like mush, poor quality – tastes very processed”, “very bland!!!”, “wishy washy”, and “watery”. “The sauce is nice but I didn’t really like the texture of the chicken as it was bit mushy”, said one. Another taster commented that was more like a casserole than a curry. “It lacks spice and flavour and has a strange consistency.” At the end of the day with a price tag of £1.50, it’s surprising the dish did so well.

Chef’s comment:  “No texture to the chicken. The dish didn’t look appetizing and tasted a bit like spicy baby food! I didn’t like the finely chopped vegetables but it was nice and flavoursome on first taste.”


  • Chicken Tikka Masala from Indian takeaway £8.95 approx 650g SCORE:  85
Description:  Chicken marinated in yoghurt and a blend of tandoori spices cooked in a clay oven, then re-cooked in a rich mild special sauce containing nuts, raisins and cream.

The verdict:  Astute tasters recognised the bright red colouring was indicative of the authentic takeaway dish. Most enjoyed it and liked the buttery flavour. The meat was generally thought to be of better quality and it had obviously been cooked in a tandoor oven with skewer holes evident. Comments included: “Nice smell and taste.” “Chunkier pieces of chicken but too much turmeric.” “Enjoyed this one!” “Sweet coconut and spices but chicken is dry.” “Quite sweet; nice meat.” “Chicken is dry but has a nice flavour.” “Good colouring, tastes authentic.” “Possibly a bit too sweet and coconutty,” wrote one taster. Someone else complained about the “coarser texture” and “synthetic colour” whilst another described the dish with an enthusiastic, “Mellow and morish!”

Chef’s comment: Nice texture to the chicken and it actually tasted and looked like chicken! This one has a real authentic tandoor flavour. Quite a mild curry but very pleasant and quite sweet – the taste of coconut is a little overpowering; but it’s also spicy and hot.”


Supermarket description: A medium spiced curry made with tender pieces of marinated chargrilled chicken breast in a rich, creamy masala sauce, finished with aromatic coriander leaf.

Chicken content: Cooked marinated chicken 40% (87% chicken breast).

The verdict: M&S claim to sell over 18 tonnes of Britain’s favourite dish a week. The most expensive of the supermarket bought meals, tasters found it “wishy washy” and criticised its creaminess. “I can taste heat but not spice” was one comment. “It’s creamy but has a bit less flavour.” “Poor taste with a strange wheaty aftertaste.” “Too much garlic!” Several mentioned the taste of cumin seeds, and cardamom flavours. Praise included: “Has texture of real meat”and “mild but has a nice tang”. However, some tasters thought the opposite: “Chicken tastes modified” said one, whilst another simply wrote “Yuck!”

Chef’s comment: The chicken has a good texture. It’s quite spicy but a pleasant and quite creamy curry.

  • Sainsbury’s Indian Chicken Tikka Masala £3.60 400g  SCORE:  78
Supermarket description: Marinated British chicken breast in a creamy tomato sauce with coriander and tandoori spices.

Chicken content: Chargrilled marinated chicken breast 35%.

The verdict:  The natural flavours of this dish proved to be a hit. “This is definitely not supermarket – yes I like this one,” wrote one mistaken tester. Other comments were: “Warming and spicy.”“Creamy with a hint of spices.” “Not much flavour here, just spice.” “I like the look of this one! Nice texture of meat.” “A bit more heat would make it very good”. “Tangy aftertaste”. “Nice and flavoursome.“ “Fairly spicy, not very colourful.” “Nice bit of heat” and “hotter!”. “Tender meat” was noted more than once. “It’s more smoky and herby tasting as well”, said one taster. “Thicker sauce, maybe too thick,” wrote another.

Chefs Comment:  Good texture of chicken. Again, I found the sauce a little thick and heavy. Nice spicing. I liked the texture of the chicken and flavour but the texture of the sauce lets it down for me.


  • Tesco’s Indian Chicken Tikka Masala - £3.20 350g  SCORE: 71
Supermarket description: Marinated chicken in a spiced tomato sauce infused with paprika, coriander, cumin and chilli.

Chicken content: Marinated chicken 51%

The verdict: Again, testers found the dish a bit bland though they commented on the good texture of the chicken. It was generally judged to be less creamy. Feedback was as follows: “Nice flavour, just a hint of spice.” “A bit oily.” “I can taste coconut and mint,” (neither ingredient was in this dish.) “The sauce is lovely”, “tasty, fairly spicy.” “Herby.” “Has a look of a Korma,” wrote one tester, “It’s too mild for me,” complained another. “The chicken seems very processed. Not much flavour. Nice, creamy texture but not enough spice,” was the final conclusion.

Chef’s Comment:  A bit bland but the texture of the chicken is good.


  • Morrison’s Indian Takeaway Chicken Tikka Masala £3.25 385g SCORE: 62
Supermarket description: Marinated chicken breast pieces in a creamy, lightly spiced sauce.

Chicken content: Chicken breast 28%

The verdict: “Brilliant! Jolly nice, a bit coconutty.” “Watery sauce, chicken tastes rubbery.” “There is hardly any chicken and the sauce is too thin.” “Not much flavour, horrible chicken.” “I eat more supermarket readymade meals than curries from takeaways so I’m more used to their taste,” one tester was heard to comment.

Chef’s comment:  Too watery and bland. The chicken tastes more natural than some but is still a bit synthetic with a strangely smooth texture.


VEGETABLE CURRIES

  • Marks & Spencer’s Vegetable Curry  £2.90  SCORE: 76

The verdict:  Surprisingly, several people thought this was the authentic takeaway dish. Comments were highly complimentary with the vegetables receiving praise for their chunky size and taste. Comments included: “Very tasty, nice spice level. “Vegetables are good consistency.” “Vegetables seem like they’ve been frozen.” “Great cauliflower!” “Don’t usually choose veggie curries but I could go for this!” “Nice big chunks of vegetables.” “Sharp spice taste – definitely supermarket.” “The vegetables are more chunky, but not a lot of taste.” “Excellent! Very tasty, exotic. Got to be authentic!”

Chefs comment: Vegetables are nice and crispy and can identify what everything is. This dish is nice and spicy too.

  • Tesco’s Takeaway Vegetable Curry   £3.50   SCORE: 41
The verdict:  No-one seemed to like this dish, with one taster labelling it as the “worst curry ever!” The general opinion was that the consistency was too mushy. Comments were: “Moist but not very tasty.” “Not much taste.” “Seems to be made with frozen veg.” “No spice.” “Very tomatoey.” “Doesn’t look appetising, veggie bits seem to have a liquorice taste.” “Veg are a bit soft.” “Not for me!” “Very little flavour,” and finally … “Me no likey!!”

Chef’s Comment:  The vegetables are soggy. I’m not over impressed with the flavour. Medium spice but lacked body.


  • Vegetable Curry from Indian takeaway £5.95  approx 650g
The verdict:  Comments were not all full of praise, although there were plenty of positive remarks:  “Veg mushy.” “Unpleasant aftertaste.” “Nice aftertaste.” “Too much of one particular spice, not sure which.” “Smooth, nice taste.” “Hot but not too hot.” “Love this one! Nice and spicy.” “Bitter taste, frozen veg again.” “Good spice on the whole.” “Tasty, lots of veg – best of the veg curries.” “Very spicy must be the real thing.” “Quite hot.” “Good after spice taste.” “Gloopy! If this is authentic I will eat the raw chillies (not my hat),”

Chef’s comment:  Something is lacking with the flavour. It has nice spice and is quite hot. I’d like to see some more exotic vegetables rather than carrots, peas and potatoes, though I can also identify celery, butternut squash, sweetcorn and maybe spinach in there. I find the aftertaste quite unpleasant although other people seemed to like it.

HERE ARE THE FINAL SCORES (IN ORDER)


Chicken Tikka Masalas

  1. Indian takeaway  85
  2. Sainsbury’s  78
  3. Waitrose 75
  4. Tesco’s   71
  5. Marks & Spencers  66.5
  6. Morrison’s  62
  7. Asda  58

Vegetable Curries

  1. Indian takeaway  78
  2. Marks & Spencers  76
  3.  Tesco’s Takeaway  41

Conclusion: 

From this tasting session at least, it seems you still can’t beat the real McCoy from the local Indian takeaway if you are looking for quality; fresh, natural ingredients; flavour; authenticity, and a real tandoor taste.

But supermarket curries have a few things in their favour, notably the price. They also possibly have less ghee content – most of the ones we tested used rapeseed oil which has less unhealthy saturated fats than all other cooking oils. Surprisingly, they used mainly natural ingredients, no additives or flavours were involved. Only the Asda product contained modified maize starch. Ingredients included separate, sometimes in the case of Waitrose, whole spices and cloves. Cashew nuts were used in some supermarket dishes (Waitrose, Morrisons, Tesco’s and Sainsbury’s) rather than less expensive desiccated coconut. On the downside, many supermarket curries contain over half a teaspoonful of salt – more than half the recommended daily intake – and there’s no getting away from that synthetic tasting chicken which, in all cases, did not seem to have been separately cooked in a tandoor.

When we look at the vegetable curry, in this tasting at least, the M&S product follows close on the takeaway’s heels, with a significantly lower price tag. However, it should be said that although the takeaway products cost more, the portions at approx 650g were almost twice the size of some supermarket meals, with enough to feed more than two people.

So, should Indian takeaway operators be worried? According to Guy Fielding, Director of Business Development for the NPD Group, ethnic food may not be perceived as the everyday good value it once was.

He continues: “To compete with the supermarkets ethnic operators need to change the price value equation by introducing deals and promotions that resonate with consumers. The recession has made consumers more discriminating in the choices they make. Ethnic operators will need to get more sophisticated about the deal and the promotion element of the business if they are to turn this decline around.”

Some of our Tasters:

Lisa Anderson, Owner of Finer Catering

Testers and staff from the Yorkshire Wolds Cookery School who took part in the tasting session.