Yet according to one Glaswegian, Ali Ahmed Aslam, it was created at his restaurant Shish Mahal in the early 1970s — and his claim to have invented the curry as a suitably mild modification to suit British tastes is generally accepted as the most credible.
“We used to make chicken tikka, and one day a customer said, ‘I’d take some sauce with that, this is a bit dry’,” Aslam said. “So we thought we’d better cook the chicken with some sauce.”
He called his sauce masala, a Hindi word meaning a mixture of elements. Somewhat unpromisingly it was based on a tin of condensed tomato soup that he had bought for its blandness and for his own consumption while he recovered from a stomach ulcer. Whether it was the same branded tin painted by Andy Warhol is not recorded, but to it he added yoghurt, cream and a variety of spices, including coriander and turmeric.
The customer, a bus driver of Asian origin, liked it so much that he brought his friends to the restaurant to taste it. Realising that he was on to something, “Mr Ali” (as he was known to his customers) put the dish on the menu and called it chicken tikka masala. He was soon serving it to Asian and British customers alike; the dish became a potent symbol of Britain’s new-found multiculturalism and was, Aslam said, his gift to his adopted city.
Note that this specific tale is the “most credible” among the origin stories. That chicken tikka masala was invented in Britain is true, that it’s – largely – chicken tikka with a can of tomato soup is true. That it caters to a rather British taste – I want some gravy with that – is true and so on. This particular person in this particular restaurant?
To an extent we’re talking about steam engine time here. But even when we are talking about steam engine time there always is the Newcomen, the Watt, who actually do the thing that’s sleeting through the world as inspirons.
All the available evidence tells us that the doner kebab was invented in Berlin – why not Glasgow for the chicken tikka masala?