by Imran Chowdhury :

Curry business in the United Kingdom is the trade mark and signature traits of
the sprawling Bangladeshi Bengali community. The architect of the business
have been very successful in making the curry a life style food of the British
nation. It has come a long way from it’s humble beginning in the mid fifties of
the last century. The end product of this thriving business is known to the
world as one of the most aspiring food and a cuisine to the rest of the world.
The Industry has encompassed the whole length and the breadth of the
United Kingdom from Lands End, to South end and from Fort William, to
Balham and from Cardiff to Cromer and the rest. There is not a single town,
village and sub urban dwelling where there isn’t a curry house – take away or
a restaurant.
It has only happened due to the perseverance and resilience of the
community itself & the passion of British people for their versatile eclectic
habit of consuming foods from all around the world of cuisines.
The dish famously known as the most favourite dish of the People of the
British isles is a Curry called ‘’Chicken Tikka Masala ;’’ is synonymous to the
Curry and one would be surprised to know that a child from the age of 4-6
comes to know the name of this unique dish. They climb up the ladder of
spicy food hierarchy starting from Korma – Masala to Madras to Vindaloo.
This is how much the penetration of curry trade has into the hearts and minds
of the British people.
The name curry is itself the best USP for the industry has. With the relentless
support of the consumers and service providers the brand ‘’ CURRY’’ rides
above all the waves of the business marketing and sales traits.
The curry houses up and down the country kept the British town’s high street
brightly lit all along these precarious excruciatingly painful recession when the
majority of the shop fronts were closed down due to the downturn and were
boarded up – at that crucial juncture of the economy these curry houses were
bastions of the high streets.
Historically the Bengali community from erstwhile East Pakistan (Bangladesh
now) are the one who started the trend of setting up curry businesses;
restaurants and take aways. Since, Its rudimentary beginning in the early –
mid fifties of the last 20th century the industry has grown from strength to
The abundance of work force; newly migrating to the UK needed their much
desired income and a job at that crucial juncture the curry businesses
rendered the jobs and the industry slowly and gradually started to blossom
full to the brim.
The Bangladeshi community in the UK and in Bangladesh owes a great deal
of homage and gratitude to those hardworking risk taker, buzzing and
maverick entrepreneurs. Who stood firm against all the odds, abuse of
relentless racism, lack of finance , lack of knowledge of rules and regulations,
lack of facilities from the local authorities and above all poor vocabulary to
turn that boutique business into a thriving pan UK SME venture. Is itself a
story of success and victory. Nothing could faze them, when the going got
really tough those battle hardened soldierlike entrepreneurs got themselves
going. The pioneers of the bengali diaspora’s flagship signature weathered
through all the odds, impediments and obstacles.
Till date the industry is run, managed and owned by many of the descendants
of those doyens of the pioneers. Their third and fourth generations are now
the proud bastions of the industry.
The new arrivals who joined the industry at a later stage by joining hands with
their predecessors added an extra glorification to the business and with their
flair, new outlook, and PR along with various social, political and corporate
exposures the CURRY became life style choice for all most all house holds of
the United Kingdom and beyond.
There are now circa 20,000 outlets owned by Bangladeshis in The British
Isles selling curry day in day out. Serving in excess of half a million portions
of Chicken Tikka Masala a week. Chicken Tikka Masala is the most sold
dishes ; about 30-35% of all curries sold are chicken tikka masala.
No matter how posh or opulent or up market the establishment of the curry
outlets are ; they still attract more discerning guests and customers who
would like to treat their tastebuds with all the favourite dishes. Those age old
favourite 4-5 main dishes, 4-6 starters, 2 vegetable side dishes with 2 types
of rice and 3 types on bread. These are predominantly the best selling items
of their menus. In order for to quantify those; these would not be imprudent to
say, these above generic favourites constitute about 60- 65% of the total
turnover of the business. ( a conservative guesstimation).
The Curry business and its paraphernalia and the backyard linkage support
chain trades alone is providing an estimated 150,000 employments in the UK
and the overall total accumulated gross turn over all the associated
businesses may reach close to £ 10 billion a year.
There are a whole host of other auxiliary businesses in the UK are thriving on
the back of this CURRY industry. Accounting firms, Legal Practitioners, Travel
Agents, Groceries, Distributors, PR companies, Web designing companies ,
Whole Sale and Retailers, Banks, Training Institutes, Millers to name a few.
The Curry business today in the UK stands like ship emulating the Giant
TITANIC and those mentioned above sailing with this giant ship to prosperity
on board the mother vessel ; HMS The Curry House.
One has to pay a small visit to Sylhet region in the north east part of
Bangladesh to see for themselves what a mammoth social, cultural,
ecumenical and educational corporate social responsibility aspect of a
business can do. There are in excess of 3000 schools (small and large),
Hospitals, Medical College, Private Universities, Charities, poverty alleviation
NGO’s, Shopping complexes, Building construction project under taken by
these charitable curry house owners to emancipate the region from a
backwater waterlogged marsh land to a thriving cosmopolitan fusion of urban
and rural country. Since early 19th century these areas of greater Sylhet saw
the highest numbers of educational institutions set up by private
philanthropists. What an enormous success story it has been.
No wonder it makes one feel so proud to be a owner of a such success story.
[ Writer Imran Chowdhury; a free lance journalist and writer who also owns a
curry house in the UK]