Friday, January 13, 2012

The Empire Bites Back

 When, in 1858, the British East India Company handed over rule of India to Queen Victoria, both parties got a little more than they bargained for. The people of India got the Civil Service and cricket and white people wearing pith helmets drinking gin. Her Majesty’s British subjects got bandanas, bangles and bungalows — and that’s just the Bs.

Because English culture is basically a sponge, soaking up whatever comes its way, it assimilated what nearly 100 years of the Raj brought back to her chilly shores — mostly in the forms of a more colorful language and dinner table. It is no accident that curry is today considered the national dish of Great Britain, Indian takeaways appearing with as much ubiquity as pizza parlors do in America.

The Victorians developed a taste for many of the native dishes of India, some of which appeared with such regularity on the menu that it seemed they were British to begin with. Some, in fact, were.

Kedgeree, a buttery rice and daal dish common not just to India but to a wide swath of the earth’s temperate zone, is just such a thing. Some claim it was brought back to Britain from India, where it was mixed with spices and flaked haddock and egg to become a popular breakfast dish. Others claim it originated in Scotland, whereupon it was taken to India by the colonial army, and then came back.

When they parted ways in 1947, both Empires were changed by the enduring influence of the other. And when you sit down to a breakfast of kedgeree in your pajamas on the verandah, after having shampooed your hair, you have rather a lot of India on your tongue. Even if you are Scottish.

 Mrs. Beeton’s Everyday Cookery,Ward, Lock & Co., Limited

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