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End of the curry folks! New Indian street food star calls time on Britain’s favourite dish

Tania Rahman, owner of the ChitChaatChai restaurant in Wandsworth, London

The much-loved curry – once a staple of the British diet and still cited as the one of the country’s most popular foods – has had its day.

That is according to British-born Indian restauranteur Tania Rahman who insists the end of the curry is nigh.

Tania, who runs Indian street food restaurant Chit Chaat Chai in South West London, insists the refusal of an ‘old boys’ club’ of Indian restaurant owners who are ‘stuck in a time warp’ is the reason why many Indian restaurants are closing in the UK.

A recent Channel 4 documentary by choreographer, Akram Khan, called The Curry House Kid, estimated that half of all Indian restaurants – 90 per cent of which are ran by Bangladeshis – will close in the next 10 years.

Indeed, Brick Lane, known as ‘Banglatown’, and home to the largest Bengali community outside of Bangladesh in the East End of London, has around 20 curry houses now compared to over 70 in the 1970s.

Rahman, herself, made headlines four years ago after she was banned from running an Indian food stall at a St George’s Day event in Salisbury, Hampshire on the basis her food was not ‘English-themed’.

The council were forced to do an embarrassing U-turn and, as part of an apology, then offered her the opportunity to trade at the event which she accepted.

Rahman’s trend-setting Indian street food restaurant Chit Chaat Chai in Wandsworth has become a flourishing celebrity hang-out. It stands apart from typical curry houses as it serves ‘new-generation Indian street food’, also known as ‘chaat’, which is lighter, feel-good, relaxed food, packed with flavour and spices, in dynamic, vibrant surroundings.

This has led to the 32-year-old becoming at odds with traditionalist Indian male restaurant owners who refuse to change the way they run their businesses.

“It’s a daily battle,” she said. “I’ve been to some of these Bangladeshi restaurant events and I look around and there is no one who looks like me, sounds like me and can see things the way I do.

“It’s such an old boys’ club and they are stuck in a time warp. They are holding on to what they know which is 1970s table cloths and they need to evolve because if they don’t, they will all shut down.

“There is a lack of ideas and unwillingness to adopt any new ones from curry house owners. I’ve been to several industry events and award ceremonies which just full of middle-aged men. On some occasions, I’ve literally been the only woman and that surely has to change!”

Rahman says consumers’ eating habits have also changed and customers are swapping stodgy curries for healthier options.

“I would say people of all ages are generally more health conscious nowadays and looking for healthier options, not just millennials,” she said. “In the past, a heavy curry and a large naan bread would be washed down with a pint of lager and considered a Friday night treat, but perception has changed.

“At Chit Chaat Chai, we prepare small plates which are fresh to order and don’t leave you bloated. People are swapping to juices or cocktails as a lighter alternative to calorific beers.

“Portion sizes and ingredients make a huge difference. People leave the restaurant at the end of the night feeling good after they have eaten. We’ve seen a move towards veggie and vegan food definitely and two-thirds of our menu is completely vegetarian.

“People are also becoming much more educated about food and have also turned their backs on the traditional English curry because they know it’s not authentic Indian food too. Many people still don’t realise the curry they love has nothing to do with India! Chicken Tikka Masala is Britain’s favourite curry but was actually ‘invented’ in Glasgow in Scotland!”

While takeaway and convenience food will always have its place, Rahman says people are also becoming much wiser to the fact they can easily cook a Tikka Masala at home – another factor hitting footfall at curry houses.

Rahman said: “It so easy for people to create a tikka masala or korma at home as there are more curry sauces on the shelf in supermarket now than ever, so eating at a classic style Indian restaurant no longer holds such an appeal. The advent of Indian ‘takeaway’ ready-meals from all the big supermarkets also means that people can even enjoy the convenience and full flavor of a curry at home for a fraction of the cost.

“People are wising up to the unnecessary added ingredients in ‘ready-made’ curries too so are turning to the many excellent cookbooks and online recipes to make their own from scratch.

“The end of the curry as we know is a turning point for British cuisine, it sends a message that we want more from our diet, we want fresh new flavours, we want food which enriches our lives, and we want food which helps us to stay healthy.”

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