Quitting her job during the Covid-19 lockdown, Bengaluru's Karen Martin built a food business out of her great-grandmother's century-old Anglo-Indian recipes that have been passed down the generations.
When describing Anglo-Indian cuisine, ‘love child’ is probably the most suitable word. While we may know that it dates back to the British Raj, there is no one definitive account of its date of origin.
Timeline is not the only elusive factor about perhaps India’s first fusion cuisine. Unlike other cuisines like Kathiawadi, Andhra and Kashmiri, Anglo-Indian food is not region-specific, nor does anyone’s community influence it.
This amalgamation of Indian spices, stews and roasts is the mainstay of British food. The British loved chutneys and spices that tickled the taste buds but they added them in limited quantities to the meats. There is no one person or place behind the cuisine. It is said to have developed in different parts of India inside army canteens, railway headquarters and gymkhanas or clubs.
Anglo-Indians are those with mixed Indian and British ancestry and people of British descent born or residing in India. As the colonial rule ended in 1947, Anglo-Indians either moved back to the UK or stayed back.
Due to the scattering, a very small-sized population of Anglo-Indians are left and only a handful of them are preserving their cultural heritage. One of them is Karen Martin from Bengaluru.
She decided to quit her job a year ago, when the pandemic hit, to popularise the lesser-known cuisine. She started her cloud kitchen, ‘House of Anglo’ from her home kitchen and uses her great-grandmother’s century-old recipes that have been passed down the generations.
“We use ingredients that have British influence but masala is Indian. It cleans your palate and comforts you. The Indian cooks of the colonial times invented new dishes, which was a combination of Indian Flavours along with those of Britain and Europe. Dishes like soups were seasoned with red chillies and meat was roasted with whole spices. Anglo-Indian is an underrepresented cuisine but it has a lot to offer in terms of soups, stews and steaks,” Karen tells The Better India.
She used social media platforms to get customers and tell the world about her new venture but retained the customers solely on the quality and taste of her food. Neither spicy nor bland, her food achieves just the perfect amount of ‘sass’.
Deepak Menon, who has been a loyal customer says, “My friend had suggested Karen’s name. I have always wondered what the cuisine had to offer, its preparation style and its taste. Goan food is the closest I must have come to Anglo-Indian food. This cuisine should get its own section in our culinary history and thanks to people like Karen for sharing the culture. Some of her mouthwatering dishes include pot roast, fermented jackfruit curry and desserts.”
Karen’s maternal side has Burmese roots. Her grandmother’s grandmother married a Britisher and settled in India. They were conferred with the title of Anglo-Indians. Meanwhile, her paternal side has Scottish roots.
“A part of my family migrated to England and the other half stayed here. My great grandfather worked in the Kolar Gold Fields and stayed in the government headquarters. The common canteen influenced what they made at home. They lived in an Anglo-Indian colony with English looking cottage houses that exposed them to the ‘Nati’ style. It is a style where chicken or turkey is raised naturally as opposed to a broiler. They lived far away from the market so trips would be fewer. In other words, it was a farm-to-table concept,” says Karen.
Her ancestors prepared food on a wooden stove and roasted it on firewood for a distinct smoky taste. Simple ingredients like chilli, pepper, vinegar were added in moderation. Ginger and garlic paste dominated their cuisine. However, over the years, her family made it more spicy and salty as post-Partition, the cuisine catered only to Indians.
If Nati style dominated Karnataka’s Anglo-Indian cuisine, mustard became the heart of dishes in Bengal. Chennai and Bengaluru emphasised adding coconut.
The best time to relish Anglo-Indian cuisine, says Karen, is during Christmas, weddings and birthdays. The community prepares signature dishes like Railway Mutton Curry, Bengal Shrimp Curry, Country Captain Chicken, Anglo-Indian mince ball curry, Dak Bungalow and more.
Digging into Ancient Recipes
Caroline Hughes passed the recipe of Bread pudding to her grandaughter, Alice, who disclosed it to her granddaughter, Karen, on a rainy afternoon in Bengaluru. Karen was a child when she heard the story and found it odd at first.
“Bread pudding holds sentimental value in our family. Back in the day, my ancestors were scared of wasting bread, given its importance in Britain. So they would recycle the stale bread and steam it with dry fruits and eggs. That’s how bread pudding was born in the community which became our traditional dessert. Today, of course, we only use fresh bread or bread baked by us.”
Kedgeree (anglicised version of Khichdi) is another dish made from leftovers. It is a rice-based dish containing eggs and fish. It is infused with garlic, ginger and turmeric. The fish (preferably single bone) is cooked in milk broth and laced with bay leaves, pepper, corn, cinnamon.
“The British usually take haddock but we use Bhetki fish with leftover milk. Fish is flaked into the rice and boiled eggs are added. English loved their breakfast so this dish was usually served in the mornings,” says Karen.
The Anglo Brown stew is made with vegetables but gets its name from the garam masala used. Once you start frying onions and tomatoes, the masalas turn brown. Beef cubes further enhance the colour and give it a smooth texture. Diamond-shaped chapati rollouts beautify the stew. Dumpling stew stuffed with meat and flour is another famous dish. For vegetarians, Karen prepares Okra stew in thick coconut milk.
The secret behind achieving the tenderness and flavour in meat-based dishes is to bash it aggressively, says Karen. She also uses the old technique of marinating the meat the previous evening and cooking the next afternoon.
Born marrow stew is another signature comfort food, “Bone marrow has a lot of fat that keeps you warm. It is usually prepared in winters with pepper, salt and a slice of bread. I make beef bone marrow with carrots and lentils. The best part is one does not need oil or butter. My ancestors would make this to get relief from blocked nose and cold. The Mulligatawny Soup also comes in handy in winters. It tastes like rasam as it has South Indian ingredients like red chillies and pepper,” says Karen.
She shares her recipes of Okra Coconut Stew and Caramel Custard below:
The Okra Coconut Stew
Prep. Time: 20 mins
Cook Time: 30 mins
- 250 gm Okra ( chopped into bite-size pieces)
- ½ cup thick coconut milk
- 2 cups thin coconut milk
- 4 tbsp oil
- 2 medium onions (finely chopped)
- 25gm ginger (julienned)
- 1 medium-size tomato (roughly chopped)
- 2 green chillies (slit in half)
- 2 tbsp coriander powder
- ½ tsp pepper powder
- ¼ tsp garam masala
- ¼ tsp turmeric powder
- Salt to taste
- Heat oil in a pan and add the okra. Fry till it’s no longer sticky and is cooked.
- Take it off the heat and keep them aside.
- Heat oil in a pan and add onions along with the ginger and green chilli. Fry until the onions are translucent.
- Lower the flame and add coriander powder and turmeric. Fry till the raw smell of the masala has gone. Add the roughly chopped tomato to the mix and sauté.
- Add the cooked okra to the mixture along with salt.
- Add the thin coconut milk along with pepper and garam masala. Let the mixture come to a boil.
- Take off from heat, add in the thick milk and stir the mixture gently.
- Serve with buttered rice or toast.
Tip: Meat can also be added to the stew, which will then be a ‘meat and Okra stew’.
Prep. Time: 15 mins
Cook time: 45mins.
For the caramel
- 1 cup of sugar
- ¼ cup water
For the custard
- 2 whole eggs and 1 yolk
- 250 ml milk
- 6 tsp sugar
- 1tsp vanilla essence
- Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
- Add ½ cup sugar and water to an open pan on medium heat and let the sugar dissolve completely. Do not stir the mix to prevent the caramel from crystallizing. Wait till the caramel turns a dark amber colour and turn off the heat. Do not leave the caramel unattended.
- Pour the hot caramel into a 5-ounce (150 ml) ramekins and be careful while spooning in the mixture, as the caramel is extremely hot. Leave the ramekins aside to cool and let the caramel get to a hard brittle stage.
- In an open glass bowl, add in two whole eggs and one yolk along with the sugar and whisk vigorously till the eggs are a light yellow colour.
- To the egg mixture add in the vanilla essence and the milk and stir till there is no more foam left.
- Spoon in the egg mixture into the ramekins with the caramel brittle and place in an ovenproof deep dish with hot water, covering half the ramekins.
- Cover the ramekins with a piece of aluminium foil and place in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes till the mixture becomes firm or till a skewer comes out clean.
- Let the ramekins cool completely before toppling it over.
- This dessert can be served warm or chilled.
You can order from House of Anglo here
Edited by Yoshita Rao