Who killed the curry house? | Bee Wilson

Why has Britain turned its back on its favourite food – and shut out the people needed to cook it?

No one in Oli Khan’s family had ever lived in Scotland, or anywhere near it. But when, aged 23, Khan first set eyes on Linlithgow, a modest West Lothian town near Falkirk, he saw a prize greater than home. He saw opportunity. This chilly Scottish town – whose name means “lake in the damp hollow” – was the perfect place, Khan decided, to set up a curry house: it had a decent sized population, around 9,000 people, but no Indian restaurant. With help from his brother-in-law, who was in the restaurant trade in Birmingham, he opened his curry house in 1995 and named it Kismet – destiny.

Khan’s father, who arrived in Britain from Bangladesh as a waiter in 1962, had taught him that there was good money to be made in selling curry to the British, if you could adapt it to their taste for predictable sauces on a sliding scale of heat (mild korma, medium Madras, fiery vindaloo). For thousands of Bangladeshi immigrants in the 60s and 70s, working in Britain as OCs (“onion cutters”) and DCs (“dish cleaners”) was a way out of an even more precarious existence back home.

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