With its chunks of spiced chicken surrounded by a rich tomato and yogurt-based sauce, chicken tikka masala is one of the UK’s most beloved dishes.
Now, the man who is widely credited with inventing it has died at age 77, his restaurant has announced.
Ali Ahmed Aslam was widely hailed as one of the world’s top curry doyens when he is said to have invented the dish at his restaurant Shish Mahal, which he opened in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1964.
Aslam once told news agency AFP that his light bulb moment came in the 1970s, when a customer complained that the chicken tikka was too dry, and needed sauce. Aslam threw together a yogurt-based tomato sauce to accompany the meat.
In 2001, chicken tikka masala came in above fish and chips in a list of the UK’s favorite dishes.
In a speech on the concept of Britishness at the time, Robin Cook, the UK’s late foreign minister, called the curry “a true British national dish, not only because it is the most popular, but because it is a perfect illustration of the way Britain absorbs and adapts external influences.”
“Chicken tikka is an Indian dish. The masala sauce was added to satisfy the desire of British people to have their meat served in gravy,” he added.
“Coming to terms with multiculturalism as a positive force for our economy and society will have significant implications for our understanding of Britishness.”
A bid backed by a local parliamentarian to get the curry EU protected status, and its Glasgow origins recognized, failed in 2009, with other restaurants claiming they invented the dish.
Born in Pakistan, Aslam arrived as a child in Glasgow when his family made the move.
The restaurant, which closed for 48 hours after his death, shared the news in a Facebook post on December 19. “Mr Ali passed away this morning… we are all absolutely devastated and heartbroken,” they shared.
His funeral was held the following day in Glasgow Central Mosque. The restaurant had posted that any restaurant fans would be welcome to attend.
Christopher Cameron, once voted Scottish Curry Lover of the Year as one half of Trampy and the Tramp’s Glasgow of Curry, bloggers and leaders of a curry dining club around the city, told CNN that the Shish Mahal “became a beloved Glasgow institution almost from the start.”
Cameron has been a regular since the age of two, he added, while his father started eating at the restaurant in the 1960s.
“It really does feel like a family business, and I can go a year or more without going, and when I go in, I still get called Mr. Cameron and they ask after my folks and brother,” he said, adding that even when the restaurant moved across Glasgow, “everyone went with it – the food and service always remained excellent.”
Top image: Ali Ahmed Aslam is said to have invented chicken tikka masala at his Glasgow restaurant in the 1970s. (Andy Buchanan/AFP/Getty Images)