For years, the iconic retailer Marks and Spencer has been selling its own spin of Indian cuisine in its stores and in supermarkets across the United Kingdom. But some South Asian food writers have recently called the company out on social media, declaring the products were a form of cultural appropriation.
The controversy began when writer Mallika Basu tweeted about the food being sold while shopping at the chain. “I grew up in Bengal, head back regularly and I have no idea what Bengali Turmeric Curry is,” Basu, the author of “Indian Cooking for Modern Living” wrote. “With celery seeds, tamarind and coconut no less. Can someone please enlighten me?”
I grew up in Bengal, head back regularly and I have no idea what Bengali Turmeric Curry is. With celery seeds, tamarind and coconut no less.
Can someone please enlighten me? pic.twitter.com/YVNuS6ccqK
— ✨ Mallika Basu ✨ (@MallikaBasu_) August 8, 2018
Other writers that hail from the subcontinent soon began chiming in and calling out products from other British retailers. “It’s like Tesco’s ‘Gujarati curry paste’ in the spices section – there’s no such thing,” noted fellow food writer Sejal Sukhadwala. “Nobody in Gujarat uses a curry paste.”
It's like Tesco's 'Gujarati curry paste' in the spices section – there's no such thing, nobody in Gujarat uses a curry paste.
— Sejal Sukhadwala (@SejalSukhadwala) August 8, 2018
In addition to being a food writer, Basu is an ambassador for Great Britain’s Food is Great Campaign, which highlights the diversity and strengths of Britain’s food culture. She expanded on her thoughts on the appropriation of Indian cooking in an interview with The Guardian. “Marks & Spencer are so high profile, they should know better. You wonder if they consulted any Indians in the development,” Basu said. She continued, “The UK is the capital for Indian food outside India. We have a responsibility to do justice to the real thing.”
Curry and various spices have long been integrated into various forms of British cooking, with London’s first Indian restaurant opening back in 1809. In a statement, Marks and Spencer defended their products and said they were the result of research and testing.
“The curry kit was developed to be a traditional Bengali malai turmeric curry, a celebratory dish, popular with the British population in Kolkata,” the company said in a statement. “The range was launched last September under the experienced eye of Cathy Chapman, head of product development, who was the first to introduce chicken korma, chicken tikka kebabs and pilau rice to the weekly shop.”