Bradford - Britain's Curry Capital!

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Written by James
Published on 29th March 2022 at 14:36 • No comments yet, be the first!

Covid restrictions have made overseas travel a bit tricky for all of us over the last couple of years, but it has meant we've been forced to look more closely at what's around us in the UK that we'd never looked at before. Bradford hadn't previously been on my 'must visit' travel list, but as we might just be working on a new Curry Legend book (you heard it here first....!) I thought it was worth checking out the self-proclaimed 'Curry Capital' of Great Britain, and tasting some of the local specialities for myself. It turns out I didn't know what I'd been missing all these years!

Bradford, like a lot of Britain's post-industrial cities, is in the middle of the long and sometimes painful process of reinventing itself, with many of the old mills being converted into impressive offices or flats. I have to admit my ignorance about how much was happening there now (the film and arts scenes in particular are really active), how spectacular many of the local buildings are (due to the massive profits made in the 19th Century when Bradford was the centre of the world's textile industry), and most importantly from our perspective, how good the food is! 

The main reason for the local reputation of making great curries is that Bradford is second only to Leicester in terms of the proportion of the population from a South Asian background (22% according to Wikipedia...). The great majority of those have family origins in Pakistan and Kashmir so the food here tends to reflect that, being very rich and fragrant with lots of grilled meats, incredibly moreish rotis and naans, and slow-cooked curries (often made in a Handi or clay pot). 

The immigrants from Kashmir started to arrive in Bradford after the 2nd World War when the local population was decimated and more workers were needed for the textile factories. There was an increase throughout the 1950s and 60s as large numbers of people from Mirpur in Pakistan migrated for work in Birmingham and Bradford (Britain now apparently has the largest Mirpuri population outside Pakistan and the town itself is known as 'Little England' due to the value of the remittances sent back and the enduring strength of the family connections).

Initially there were a high proportion of young men who emigrated, and I suppose that in 1950s West Yorkshire there weren't that many places for them to eat and socialise (particularly anywhere with halal meat on the menu and no alcohol), so some very basic canteens opened up to service this need.

The last remaining cafe from these times is the Sweet Centre on Lumb Lane which opened in 1964 and is still going strong. There's a cafe open for breakfast (chana masala, chai and samosas), as well as a restaurant for families and a big catering operation for weddings.

The Kashmir restaurant opened in the 1950s and still serves many of the same dishes on the menu today, but sadly for such a historic place, it looks a bit like it's on it's last legs. It definitely seems as though the last couple of years have been incredibly tough for all restaurants, but particularly so for some of these older, more traditional curry houses. Fingers crossed they're able to get back on their feet, but even without them there's still plenty of delicious Indian food in the newer restaurants in the city.  

Dynamite chicken from Shimlas - like an ultra-spicy prawn cocktail!

Aakash - claims to be the BIGGEST Indian restaurant in the UK with a capacity of 850, housed in a spectacular old chapel building just outside Bradford. 

As well as all these places with classic British Indian Restaurant menus plus the Kashmiri and Pakistani specials, it was really interesting to see how the 2nd and 3rd generations of the families who first settled here in the 50s are now interpreting their own experiences to create something new. You can see this at the wildly popular MyLahore which describes itself as a British Asian kitchen, mixing food from the subcontinent with British classics and international favourites. It's a modern, colourful space full of young people drinking lassis with a burger, or eating chaat or seekh kebabs with a jam roly poly pudding to finish. Then there's the Peacock bar serving craft ales matched with delicious Indian street food, so it's great to see the story of Indian food in Britain is still evolving, and we look forward to seeing it continue!



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