Image of The Hungry Empire

The journey of curry around the British Empire

Dr Lizzie Collingham is a Historian and Jesus College Visiting Fellow and will give her fascinating talk on the journey of curry around the British Empire as part of this year’s Alumni Festival from 2-3pm on Saturday 24 September in Jesus College.

When the British first began to venture out across the oceans they went in search of food: cod from Newfoundland, spices and tea from the East Indies. Over the centuries they created a global network of commerce and trade in foodstuffs that moved people and plants from one continent to another, reshaping landscapes and culinary tastes.

Curry changed and evolved according to the tastes of the various invaders of India. The Mughals brought with them the rice dishes of Persia; the Portuguese introduced the chilli peppers recently discovered by Christopher Columbus in the New World; and the Mrs Beetons and Eliza Actons of the British Raj added jam, carrots and apples to their curry recipes. The Raj also ensured that curry came the other way, from India to Britain – and today the British consume no less than 18 tonnes a year of their favourite chicken tikka masala, a dish which purists claim is not Indian at all, but meat in gravy whipped up with a few spices.

Book now to go on this wide-ranging culinary journey!

About Dr Collingham

Dr Collingham was a Research Fellow at Jesus College between 1998-2001, during which time she published her first book, Imperial Bodies: The Physical Experience of the Raj, c.1800-1947, which explored how themes of imperialism, race and class found physical expression and the use of the body as an instrument of rule during the Raj. Since leaving Cambridge she has established her credentials as an independent author, columnist and media commentator. Her publications have been highly rated by reviewers and greatly enjoyed by readers. Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors traced the story of the dish from Mughal rule to the modern day, revealing the at times unexpected history of Britain’s relationship with India along the way. The Taste of War: World War Two and the Battle for Food demonstrated how all sides in the conflict used food as a weapon of war. The Hungry Empire: How Britain’s Quest for Food Shaped the Modern World was the recipient of the Food Book Award (2018), conferred by the Guild of Food Writers.

This year’s Alumni Festival will run across three days, from Friday 23 to Sunday 25 September. For the first time, it will be a hybrid experience featuring in-person and enhanced digital programming (online and pre-recorded sessions) with an array of fascinating talks, tours and discussions. The full programme of events can be viewed here.