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Britain’s first known curryhouse

I love this story:

Historians have found that Britain’s first Indian restaurant was opened in 1809, in the midst of the Napoleonic wars and during the period in which Austen set Pride and Prejudice.

The Hindoostane Coffee House was established by Sake Dean Mahomed, an Indian-born entrepreneur, as a purveyor of Oriental food of the “highest perfection” in Marylebone, London, which at the time was a residential district for the well-off.

In my area of Pimlico, central London, there is an Indian restaurant right near my flat (aaahhh!) – said to be one of the oldest in London, dating back to the 1950s. But it appears that this now-established feature of culinary life has been going on since the age of Nelson, Wellington and William Wordsworth. An early example, in fact, of culinary globalization. It is not, in fact, all that surprising, since the desire for eastern spices and foodstuffs was an important economic incentive behind much of global trade at that time.

I can imagine how this story is going to change all those costume dramas set in the early 19th Century: “Pray excuse me sir X, but I am in urgent need of a chicken korma.”

21 comments to Britain’s first known curryhouse

  • guy herbert

    Where in Marylebone? In its current epicurean fit the Howard de Walden Estate might be persuaded to spring for a plaque.

  • John East

    I’m amazed that this first Curry house didn’t go bankrupt. Lager beer wasn’t invented until the 1830′s.

  • guy herbert

    BTW, the link doesn’t work…

  • Verity

    John East – v funny!

    It’s a wonderful story, but we probably shouldn’t be surprised. Why shouldn’t the spicy, subtle, nourishing food of India have appealed as much to those who were the first to go out to work for the E India company as those expats who came later and came home craving curry?

  • Verity

    Guy, according to this, it was on George Street.

    (Link)

    The owner had joined the E India Company as a lad.

  • Julian Taylor

    Without checking online but didn’t that same gentlemen end up running a massage service, or something akin to that, for the Prince Regent in Brighton? I seem to recall that name ages ago in Brighton for some odd reason.

  • Julian Taylor

    I presume that this [LINK] is indeed the same individual referenced in this article

  • Verity

    Julian Taylor – Thank you for that link!

    This agenda-laden entry says it all: “Sake Dean Mahomed moved to London, where he opened the first Indian take away restaurant in England.”

    Maybe they could amend their entry to include a learned discussion of why he didn’t take up a McDonald’s franchise instead.

  • guy herbert

    How do they know it was a take-away? I suspect that’s a prefabricated phrase.

    The point about early restaurants was that you could sit down for a hot meal even if you didn’t have a kitchen or if it was the cook’s day off. There wasn’t anywhere to take things away to, limited ways of keeping them hot (bring your own chafing dish) and not much transport to take them in.

  • Verity

    Guy Herbert – It is a phrase bathed in depressing ignorance. The writer knows no history and thinks 1805 was just sometime before 1950. They probably drove older cars back then, with no air-conditioning. Needless to say, he/she has no historical frame in which to place it. A disheartening product of the Za-NuLab school system.

    If he/she was interested enough to read about this enterprising man and instead of just knocking off a chippy piece of “black history” (a wannabee phrase from America, where there is genuine black history) – to prove a point, they would have known that his restaurant was opulent and designed for “the quality”. His idea was that the rich Indians (and people who had lived in India) living in London would have English or Irish cooks who didn’t know how to cook Indian food, so would enjoy coming to his restaurant. The English had already developed a keen interest in kedgeree and Mulligatawny soup.

    “Takeaway”, in 1805. I ask you! The limitations of this writer in every way! This just depresses me.

  • Nice to see curry houses have been stinking up London streets for so long. I think horse dung is a preferable smell to the ghastly smells eminating from curry houses.

  • Hrm, he lived to a ripe old age, too. 1759-1851. Not bad for the 19th century.

  • Verity

    Julian Taylor – Yes, he could do those ayurvedic medical things – like the massage. It’s widely practised medical treatment in India, even today, alongside whizzbang medical technology.

  • Verity

    James Waterton – a lot of them lived to a ripe old age. I think it was because only the very strong survived infancy and childhood.

  • Well, this is all very interesting but by far the very best curry in London is to be had here

  • guy herbert

    The oldest extant Indian Restaurant in London is usually said to be Veeraswamy (est.1926, now I look it up, though I had been under the impression it was Edwardian). Never been there, so I can’t report on the food.

  • Pi.

    For some reason I have in my memory a description of eating Indian food in the UK published in the novel ‘Vanity Fair’. My copy is, naturally, not immediately available to check this thought …

    Pi.

  • Verity

    Pi – Well, well, after reading this (Link) I don’t doubt it! Thackeray was born in India!

  • Verity

    He was born in Calcutta, in 1811! His father worked for the East India Company! Who knew?

  • RAB

    Yes I knew.
    Er, the East India Company here.
    When does the little sod get back from lunch?