Ali Ahmed Aslam, self-proclaimed inventor of chicken tikka masala, dies

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Chicken tikka masala is one of Britain’s favorite curries, found on the shelves of large supermarkets such as Sainsbury’s and in restaurants along London’s Curry Mile. Now fans of the dish are mourning the man who claimed to have invented it.

A Pakistani immigrant turned restaurant owner in Scotland, Ali Ahmed Aslam, the self-proclaimed inventor of chicken tikka masala, has died aged 77, according to his son Asif Ali.

Hundreds of tributes were paid to Ali, as he was popularly known in Glasgow, where his Shish Mahal restaurant was founded in 1964. Patrons remembered him as a “gentleman” who served up mouth-watering curry.

Born in Pakistan, Aslam moved to Glasgow aged 16, emerging as a star of the city’s Indian cuisine, according to one review. Ali told The Post that his father came from a very poor background and worked hard to create a better life for his family. “He was a simple man. He loved dal and vegetables,” said Ali.

Chicken tikka masala is similar to Indian butter chicken, with creamy tomato sauce. In tikka masala, boneless chicken is marinated in yogurt and then baked in a tandoori oven.

Shish Mahal says Aslam created the chicken tikka masala recipe by accident in the early 1970s after a customer complained that the chicken tikka was too dry. Aslam made a quick curry sauce with spices and a can of Campbell’s Tomato Soup, which he ate while suffering from a stomach ulcer.

For many, Shish Mahal has become synonymous with the dish. When Lonely Planet featured chicken tikka masala as part of a cookbook about the best spicy food in the world, it noted Aslam’s story.

In 2009, in a nod to Aslam’s claim, Mohammad Sarwar, a Labor Member of Parliament for Glasgow Central, campaigned for the city to be recognized as the home of chicken tikka masala. Although the bid failed, Aslan’s contribution as an inventor was noted in the resolution.

“Glasgowians loved the taste of Asian spices but still wanted a little sauce on their meat. Shish Mahal pioneered great Asian food with a Glasgow twist,” Sarwar told the BBC at the time.

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However, not everyone agrees, and the origin of the dish remains disputed among historians.

Peter and Colleen Grove, experts on the history of Indian food in Britain, have called the dish the “Cinderella” of culinary creations, due to its enigmatic origins. In a 1994 article for Menu magazine, they concluded that the dish was “certainly” invented in Britain to please the Western palate, probably by a Bangladeshi chef.

A similar recipe, which some food historians believe is a prototype for chicken tikka masala, is found in “Mrs. Balbir Singh’s Indian Cookery”, an acclaimed cookbook published in 1961 by an Indian chef.

For food and culture writer Leena Trivedi-Grenier, chicken tikka masala is essentially the same as butter chicken and is said to have been created by a Pakistani refugee, Kundan Lal Gujral, who moved to India during its split. at the end of British colonization. rule.

Rana Safvi, a historian of food and culture in India, told The Post that the food of the Mughal dynasty, which ruled the country between the 16th and mid-18th centuries, experienced several of these innovations.

“Just as the famous kakori kebab”, a North Indian delicacy, “was invented because some British official found the seekh kebab too chewy, chicken tikka masala was invented for a customer who found tikka too dry in the UK” , she said.

Regardless of its origin, the dish has come to represent British multicultural identity. Foreign Secretary Robin Cook called the dish a “perfect illustration” of how the country has adapted to outside influences.

“Chicken tikka is an Indian dish. Masala sauce was added to satisfy the British people’s desire to have their meat served with sauce,” he said in a 2001 speech.

Hundreds of chicken tikka masala fans have noticed Aslam’s leading role.

A fan on Twitter said he was “more important than Edison.”

And the “best dish ever created and RIP to this absolute god of food”, wrote another.