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Ramadan is known as the most holy month of the year for Muslims,
when they fast from dawn to dusk.
But less well known is that Ramadan is also a time for eating...
lots of eating.
Every day at dusk, Muslims break the fast.
Food is central to their faith.
Dishes are prepared with exotic ingredients
and according to recipes that go back centuries.
You might think that this food is only eaten by Muslims. But no.
I'm planning to have a curry tonight
if I don't make steak and onion sandwiches.
Actually, it's the kind of food millions of Britons eat
every day of the year in restaurants and at home.
And that's the story I want to tell you about today.
My name is Shappi Khorsandi.
Today I'm going to tell you how food and drink from the Muslim world
has helped revolutionise British cuisine
from the bland to the exotic.
For the British people, spice brings a vibrancy into their food.
And even how it's changed who the Brits are
because if "we are what we eat", as the famous saying goes,
then this is also a story about Britain's evolution as a nation.
I probably spent more on curry than my mortgage at one stage.
Welcome to Spice Britain!
Aw, that's a nice welcome.
I talked last time a lot about being Iranian
and people tweeted me going, "Are you really Iranian?"
I'm like, "No, I just say that to be more popular."
'You may know me for my stand-up shows
'but today it's cooking not comedy that's on the bill.'
I was born in Iran but came here
with my parents and my brother when I was three.
It was 1976.
Britain had a reputation for having the blandest palate on the planet
and my mother wasn't taking any chances.
She came to Britain with a massive suitcase full of dried limes,
dried coriander, dried dill,
anything you can think of.
She brought saffron, she brought fresh pistachios
and she brought a pumice stone.
She didn't think they had pumice stones in England.
She has very soft feet, my mother.
But what the British did have was steak and kidney pie,
bacon and eggs,
and meat and two veg.
Even my father, who loves his adopted land,
often used to say, "English food is amazing.
"It takes great effort to make something taste this bad."
35 years later, none of my mother's emergency rations would raise an eyebrow.
The Brits love their herbs and spices.
You could argue that having an Empire
that covered two thirds of the subcontinent
was bound to have an effect.
But other countries had colonies too -
France, Spain, Holland, Portugal -
but none of them embraced migrant food
with quite the same gusto as the British.
Manchester is typical of the rest of the UK in its love of spice.
The Curry Mile in Rusholme claims
a concentration of over 70 Asian and Middle Eastern takeaways
and restaurants in its one-mile stretch.
I really like curry, yeah. I like spicy food.
It's quite healthy. The ingredients are always quite fresh.
Traditionally ours is quite bland.
We're very much meat, potatoes, veg
and then some salt and pepper, maybe.
-But here it's just all the colours, as well. Brighter colours.
I'd normally go for a chicken madras,
if I'm being honest, like, but anything hot.
I ordered about, say 15 years ago, a madras
and I've never touched one since!
No, I love curries. They're lovely.
I always leave with a real satisfied, sort of, glow after a curry.
So where does our passion for herbs and spices come from?
Well, Manchester's John Rylands University Library
may have one answer - a revealing manuscript
which suggests that it goes back a long way.
It's a very tiny, battered manuscript.
It was a cookery book compiled by the master chefs of Richard II
around about 1390.
It contains approximately 200 recipes
that were used in the royal court at that time.
The list of ingredients show that the British
already had a passion for herbs and spices from the Middle East.
Many would have been brought back to Britain by returning Crusaders.
They were using ginger extensively, cardamom, cloves, garlic.
Many of the spices such as saffron were phenomenally expensive
and so they would have been reserved for the highest echelons of the court.
Thankfully, today there are no class barriers
stopping me from sampling one of the recipes.
"Tart in ymber day.
"Take and parboil onions and herbs and hew them small.
"Take bread and break it in a mortar..."
Well...that tastes very medieval.
It kind of...
tastes of Christmas...
..and pie. At the same time.
You've got the spicy curranty-ness of it
and the sort of comfort foodie...
..this is going to sit on my...
thighs for the rest of my life kind of mixture.
So, it seems that the British taste for the exotic goes back a very long way.
You just had to be pretty rich to enjoy it.
So when did the British love affair with spice really start?
The first real attempt to bring Eastern tastes to the people
came in the 19th century.
And it happened here,
in the exclusive Portman Square area of West London.
Now a Japanese restaurant,
this is the site of the first ever British curry house,
the Hindoostane, opened in 1809
at number 34 George Street.
It was the brainchild of a Muslim aristocrat, Sake Dean Mahomed.
With an eye for publicity, Dean took out an ad in The Times.
Let me just say The Times clearly charged for advertisements by the sentence!
"Mahomed is offering Indian dishes, in the highest perfection
"and allowed by epicures to be unequalled to any curries
"ever made in England with choice wines and accommodation
"and now looks to them for future patronage and support and gratefully
"acknowledges himself indebted for their favours and trusts
"it will merit high satisfaction when made known to the public."
Mahomed's vision was to recreate the atmosphere of the Raj
with a menu aimed at those who'd come back from serving the Empire
and missed the Anglo-Indian flavour
of dishes like mulligatawny and kedgeree.
Today, of course, there's quite a few upmarket curry restaurants
evoking the time of the Raj.
But sadly Mahomed was ahead of his time.
People had no concept of restaurants.
People didn't go out to eat.
You went in to eat, so you were invited to dinner parties
and your social standing was based on
who had the best dinner party and who you met at such and such a dinner party.
After three years in the restaurant business,
Dean Mahomed went bankrupt.
It was a false dawn.
The British masses were not yet ready to fall under the spell of curry.
But they were ready to fall in love with something else.
# I like a nice cuppa tea In the morning... #
Some of us wouldn't be able to start the day without it.
# And at half past eleven... #
Yes, you guessed it...
# A nice cup of... #
The origins of coffee lie with Muslims -
Bedouins who discovered coffee beans in Ethiopia in the 9th century.
I didn't realise that coffee is an Islamic drink.
No, I didn't know it was the invention of the Arabs.
I thought it was invented by the Brazilians!
I've come to one of a handful of coffee houses on London's Edgware Road
which sells strong Arabica coffee
but 300 years ago they were everywhere.
It has to be said that coffee caused quite a stir
when it first arrived in the Western world via the Ottoman Empire.
As legend has it, Pope Clement VIII was under pressure
to ban what everyone was calling "Satan's drink"
because of its connections with the Islamic world.
After a couple of sips though, he was converted
and in 1600 he gave it the papal seal of approval with a baptism!
50 years later, Britain too was converted.
By the 18th century, London was the coffee capital of the world.
There was one coffee house for every 300 inhabitants.
That's more than there is in London today.
The Jerusalem Tavern is now a pub
but it evokes much of the same atmosphere and features
as an 18th-century coffee house.
At that time, the whole experience of coffee drinking
was a very Arabic affair.
The idea was to recreate a kind of Ottoman experience.
People would sit around and talk a lot, people would smoke a lot,
so they were very noisy, smoky, active kind of places.
People keep talking about walking into a coffee house
and hearing a sort of hubbub, this busyness which
they associated both with staying awake -
cos that's what coffee did to you -
but also with commerce and with getting things done.
To this day, people come to coffeehouses to do business or simply enjoy the hubbub.
But having taken off in a big way at the start,
coffee didn't stay the course.
Another false dawn.
It was pipped to the post by tea, which was a cheaper import.
Tea quickly became the national drink.
And so for the next 200 years,
the British got on with eating their meat and two veg
washed down with tea by the gallon.
Doing their reputation for blandness no good at all.
Does me no harm.
So what changed to make the British fall in love with spice?
The change came in the 1950s.
The British Empire had sown the seeds of the spice revolution.
Now thousands of immigrants from the former Empire,
mainly from the Indian subcontinent, arrived in Britain.
Remarkably, most of those who were to fuel the growth in curry houses
were Muslims from one small region called Sylhet
in what is now Bangladesh.
I'll have tandoori king prawn starter, please.
Chicken and saag for a change?
Babu Rahman's father came here from Sylhet in 1959
and opened his restaurant in Manchester five years later.
On the day of opening the restaurant, Chef said,
"We can't open the restaurant, we have no tomatoes."
And my father said, "I don't have any money."
The chef borrowed him some shillings because they were shilling days.
The first customer came through the door.
After 48 years, still he comes.
John Pemberton was 18 when he ordered his first curry at the Azad Manzil.
I think it was about six shilling for a chicken curry and rice
and it was delicious.
You either got a leg or a breast, rested on top of the dish
with the curry sauce underneath it.
I think we were the only people in, the first time we came in.
But people get used to it and on a Saturday night it got really full, you know?
To this day in the UK, around 70% of curry houses are Muslim,
whereas Hindu and Sikh restaurants account for the rest.
So when we say we're going out for an Indian,
we're more likely to be eating Bangladeshi.
But curry has an even stronger link to Muslim history
than is commonly known.
Not only do most of the people who make it in the UK come from Muslim backgrounds
but their cooking has very strong influences
of a powerful Muslim Empire that ruled most of India for over 200 years.
It's got a personal interest to me as well cos it touches on the culture of my native Persia.
Dr Amjad Hussain has studied the effect of the 200-year rule of the Moguls on Indian cuisine,
which began in the 17th century.
The Moguls were Muslims, ruling a Hindu majority in India.
They originated from Central Asia.
They were very big meat eaters.
They were Muslims,
meat was important for them
in comparison to Hindus, who did not eat meat - majority of them -
so what you find is that they influenced Indian cooking
by bringing all this meat.
As well as meat, the Moguls brought outside cultural influences into India,
which resulted in some of today's favourite Indian dishes
like dhansak, dopiaza and rogan josh.
But maybe the most famous thing that they did was to bring
the pilau of Central Asia and the pilau of Persia,
which was much more advanced, to India.
And what they did was fuse that with the spicy rice of India
and together that created the classic dish called biryani.
When the first restaurants opened in the UK these Moghul influences
were rather too sophisticated for the customers.
In the '70s, when Babu Rahman started working in his father's restaurant,
diners were so fussy that they had to create dishes specially tailored
for the British palate that really had nothing to do with recipes back home.
Korma, the way we serve korma in Bangladesh
is totally different than what we serve here.
Masala is a created dish.
Madras I would say this was created.
Hardly people would eat rice.
If they were having a curry,
definitely they'd have curry and chips.
Even in the early days, Babu tried hard to introduce authentic tastes.
When I decided to sell proper basmati rice and when I started it
people used to say, "Smell of socks."
And I got very annoyed.
Oh, bloody hell!
Customers not appreciate it.
And believe me I said to the chef,
"Let's go back to the old, damp chips".
During the '70s the British fell in love with curry,
even if it was for the chips.
But the problem was, not everyone loved the people.
This was a decade marred by racism and abuse.
Babu faced intimidation on a daily basis.
I sometimes used to feel frightened going to the restaurant.
The culture of the customers were,
if I may allow to say with my own word,
get drunk and go to a Paki restaurant
and let's get the piss out of them. That's what was the culture.
Part of the racial abuse was not paying for the meal.
It's taken over 30 years
but at least one old customer, with a guilty conscience,
has felt the need to make up for their past behaviour with an e-mail to Babu.
He said, I used to come to this restaurant in '70s
and many times I've done a runner without paying,
please accept my apology.
That's a wonderful thing.
It's lovely, somebody apologising. I hope he's watching.
Yes, your apology's been accepted.
Thankfully, those days are long gone.
And I don't just mean the abuse.
Today, many Muslim restaurant owners
are confidently serving authentic food.
No longer pandering to British tastes.
Gram Bangala on Brick Lane is owned by third-generation Bangladeshi Abdul Shahid.
There's only one style of cooking he wants in his restaurant.
It's the type of food my mother's been feeding me since my childhood.
Mum's cooking you never forget and that's why the menu consists
of the majority of the fish dishes of Bangladesh.
I feel everyone should be proud of their own heritage.
My sign is written in such a way
that I've incorporated two identities.
GB is Great Britain.
Also I've got GB standing for Gram Bangala, which is village bangala.
And I feel proud of it. And I just want to flaunt what I've got.
Customers have changed too.
Nowadays, authenticity sells.
I do prefer the traditional curries.
Not like ones you can get in certain restaurants that are full of sugar and so on.
Traditional ones are best.
My favourite food in this restaurant -
I've been coming for 20 years -
is traditional karahi gosht, which is a lamb dish.
And the recipe is really original,
and that is, I think for most of the customers here, the most popular dish.
Curry has had a remarkable effect on the British taste buds.
No longer derided as the bland beef eaters of Europe,
the British are actually beginning to get a reputation for good taste
and good cooking.
In no small part,
thanks to a handful of pioneering restaurants in the 1950s.
Today, the UK has a staggering 9,000 curry houses
and an industry worth over £3 billion.
But curry's influence goes deeper.
It's paved the way for food from other parts of the Muslim world,
which alongside European and World food,
has made British palates amongst the most sophisticated anywhere.
Since the Second World War,
more people have arrived from other parts of the Muslim world,
from the Mediterranean and the Middle East,
bringing new tastes and new flavours.
Lebanese, Turkish, Moroccan, Egyptian,
and my own Persian.
So this is the traditional Iranian chelo kabab...soul food.
That's rice served with roasted meat.
Lovely! Just a little piece of bread,
just a little piece of bread.
That's all it is. I'm very hungry today.
In Iran naan, pronounced noon, is the general word for bread.
That's leg of lamb with rice, sultanas and hazelnuts.
And this is our traditional drink,
yoghurt drink called doogh, very tasty.
Sour or salty. I hope you enjoy!
This traditional Persian drink is called doogh.
It's a bit of an acquired taste.
It looks like the Indian Lassi but it's actually very, very salty.
And...it is an acquired taste.
I've had English friends describe it
to taste like salt water, sea water, but what do they know?
Oh, that is heavenly. Absolutely heavenly.
When I first moved to the UK, there weren't that many Middle Eastern restaurants.
So the Iranian community would congregate in places like this.
I'm in Apadena Restaurant in Kensington
and I remember coming here when I was 4 and 5 years old.
And my parents and their friends would be dancing and singing
and drinking and smoking.
And I would sleep here.
On this very bench, until someone was ready to take me home.
There may have been few Middle Eastern restaurants in Britain when I was a little girl
but there was revolution in the air, or rather, on the airwaves.
Moroccan food is the most exotic of the Mediterranean...
During the 1980s, cookery pioneers like Claudia Roden
brought Middle Eastern cuisine into millions of homes.
I used to try and tell people that pitta was a bread with a pouch in it.
People kept saying, how can a bread have a pouch?
Now you get pitta bread everywhere.
You get hummus in it and you get aubergines, which nobody ate before.
Claudia believes that when it comes to food,
the British have come a long way from bland.
I think, once upon a time, they were puritans.
Now they're hedonists. They're the big hedonists of the world.
Claudia not only broadened our love affair with food from Muslim lands,
she was also part of a revolution in the 1980s and '90s
which changed what we cooked for ourselves at home.
Meat and two veg was no longer the only item on the menu.
For the most compelling evidence that Middle Eastern
and Muslim tastes have become part of the mainstream,
we don't have to look any further than the shopping trolley.
Unlike 60 years ago,
we can choose from an astonishing range of food.
Fresh food such as aubergine,
Then there's chick peas,
jars of tahini
Herbs and spices such as curry leaf,
ginger, chilli and the best-selling herb in Britain -
There's no denying that in the last 60 years,
British tastes have changed beyond recognition.
Indian, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern.
We have more rice, we have more couscous,
we have bulgur wheat. We eat everything.
Food from the Muslim world, which began as an exotic treat in restaurants,
has finally made the long journey...
..to our kitchen table.
The love affair with food from Muslim lands has changed the British palate
but buried in this story is another tale.
If we are what we eat,
then who are we?
Food has been an important way of breaking down the barriers
towards a more diverse and tolerant society.
But there's still some way to go.
I believe, due to the circumstances today,
we need to learn about each other now.
And for us to know the importance of this is when we go home we think,
"Oh, that was really nice food made by a Muslim."
Or, "Oh, that was great person who spoke to me in the restaurant,"
and they were all Muslims. And we learn to appreciate each other.
Of course, eating the food is still only scratching the surface of Muslim culture.
But there are signs of a deeper encounter.
It's coming in the form of another import from the East.
The coffee houses of the Muslim world
may have been hounded out of Britain over 200 years ago
but they're making a comeback in a different form...
the shisha lounge.
shisha, hubble-bubble, or if you're Iranian, ghelyoon,
is essentially a water pipe.
By using one of these,
tobacco smoke is cooled by drawing it through water.
Of course, smoking shisha is just as dangerous to the health
as alcohol and cigarettes.
It was invented about 600 years ago, ironically, by an Iranian doctor
and quickly spread across the Muslim world.
In Britain, it's now popular amongst students
as an alternative to the boozy night out.
You get white people, Asians, Arabs, black people,
you get everything basically.
It's just a place to come and chill. And just, you know, talk.
Go for a curry and come back and have a shisha. It's a nice relaxing thing to do.
It's a different vibe to anything else, to be honest.
Will shisha lounges really catch on?
Who knows? As we progress towards an increasingly health-conscious society.
But what shisha lounges do show us
is that younger generations are engaging
not just with Muslim and Middle Eastern culture,
but mixing with its people on a social level.
One chicken tikka masala, one chicken karahi.
Should be ready for you in 20 minutes.
In less than 60 years, Muslim immigrants coming into the UK
have created a billion pound curry industry
employing at least 50,000 people.
Two chicken biryani, curry sauce and a nan bread.
Their food has had a huge effect on the eating habits of the British.
And if the saying "we are what we eat" is true,
then food has also played its part in bringing Britons and Muslims closer together.
-Thank you. Enjoy your meal.
So, as Muslims mark the month of Ramadan
and prepare to break the daily fast,
we should be reminded of the way their taste and flavours
have shaped our British culture... and our nation.
'Please can we have one lamb dansak, two saag aloo, one chicken korma,
'three lamb karahi, two beef madras, four naan, two lamb tikka,
'five lamb masala, six boiled rice, one beef vindaloo, two chicken rogan josh,
'mint yoghurt and mango, three chicken biryani, six pilau rice...and chips.'
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
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