Indian Food: The Next American Favorite?

The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) marks Indians as the fastest-growing incoming American demographic, hitting almost 3,000,000 in 2022. Although the proportion of Venezuelans leaving their nation was higher, Indian-born residents now account for 6.1% of all American migrants. Meanwhile, the share of Mexican-born migrants dropped six percent between 2010 and 2022.

Between 1970 and 2010, 11 million Mexicans became Americans, transforming the country’s culture and with it, the food. Given time, the Indian diaspora may one day match Mexico’s, which means something similar may happen one day. Considering India has the world’s largest population, will Indian food tread the same path Mexican already has?

A New World of Old Flavors

Traditional Indian recipes are renowned for bold flavors coming from an exotic array of spices and herbs. They also cater to varying needs — many of India’s religious sects practice vegetarianism, especially in Northern provinces. Therefore, Indian cuisine appeals to all of America’s dietary groups, notably the fast-growing plant-based disciples. Maybe this unique selling point will help it gain momentum.

Mexican Food Still Top Dog

Food delivery platform Grubhub recently published a review of the most popular dining trends in 2023, charting America’s preferred meal orders from over 600,000 users. The results show that although American choices remain the overall winner, Mexican food still wins America’s hearts and stomachs. Indian food is the ninth-most popular right now, according to the data. Will India compete with Mexico one day for top honors?

The Indian Food Chapter

A strong case study of Indian food’s culinary impact is the United Kingdom, which has a historical relationship with its former colony. British citizens once nicknamed India the “Jewel in the Crown” for its plentiful trading resources. Moreover, British India fought alongside Allied forces in World War II, sending 2.5 million soldiers into conflict. The subsequent post-war period saw a huge wave of Indian migration to Britain, enriching the culture — especially the food.

Though Indian restaurants came to Britain 50 years before, the British-Indian diaspora brought a new generation of regional curry houses and takeout spots, serving the Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi influx. Locals soon took to this exotic, new cuisine; they also shaped how Indian food tasted, leading to wholly British-invented Indian dishes. The nation’s most-ordered dish is chicken tikka masala. Until recently, that was the country’s number-one meal. 2024 saw British old-timer fish and chips reclaim the crown as the official dish of Britain. Although the 23-year reign of chicken tikka masala is nothing to sneeze at.

Legend dictates that chicken tikka masala was born in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1970. Many food historians point to an unknown Bangladeshi chef — the majority of Indian restaurants are Bangadeshi -run businesses — adding a tomato and cream-based sauce to chicken tikka. The recipe is traditionally stone-baked in an Indian “tandoor” oven. A patron sent the meat back, complaining it was too dry, and asked for a sauce — the rest is history.

Since then, other family-favorite British-Indian recipes have emerged, transforming the United Kingdom’s culinary heritage. Madras curry got its name from the British colony of Madras due to its use of spices found in that region — a blend of fenugreek, cilantro, turmeric, and red chili powder. This recipe, available in America’s Indian restaurants, is renowned for its sweat-inducing fiery taste. Madras is a dish for people at the upper end of spice bravery.

Comforting Korma

At the other end of the spectrum is comfort food 101: Korma, a perfect choice for chili-averse foodies or those who like a sweet, creamy sauce with a gentle spice profile. Like most Indian main courses, this dish involves meat marinated in yogurt and spices, slow-cooked until the chicken or mutton falls apart. Chicken Korma caused controversy in 2022 when it replaced chicken tikka masala as Britons’ number-one curry.

The Birmingham Balti Story

Balti is another familiar British dish, cooked in vegetable oil — instead of ghee — in a wok-style pan over high heat, unlike slow-cooked traditional curries. Birmingham in the English Midlands is famous for its many “Balti houses.” There is debate over the origin of the name. It may derive from the Urdu, Bengali, or Hindustani word for “bucket,” linking it to the shape of the pan used to prepare it. Some believe it originated in the Northern Pakistani region of Balti, while people from Britain’s second-largest city claim it as their invention.

Secret Birmingham reports the Association for the Protection of the Authentic Balti (APAB) was formed to protect the Balti’s identity as a Birmingham-based product. The collective is a not-for-profit cooperative of restaurants from Birmingham’s “Balti Triangle” who sign a “Memorandum of Understanding.” This charter validates how a “Birmingham Balti” is prepared, only allowing authentic Balti producers to join. Each member displays an authenticity label in their restaurant windows as a seal of approval.

San Jose: The Next Birmingham?

Grand Canyon University (GCU) studied the ten most popular international cuisines across the 50 largest American cities. The review showed that San Jose, California, has the highest frequency of five-star restaurants due to its large Indian population. Like in Birmingham, Indian food here could play a major role in the city’s gastronomical identity for future generations.

There are already several Indian-style American fusion restaurants in the United States and plenty of enthusiastic online recipe designers. Of Course, in Kansas City, Kansas, is a fusion restaurant using a cross-continental approach, using American ingredients fused with South Asian recipes. Menu selections include tandoori pork chops, halibut leek chana masala, or mango butter cake with tamarind ice cream.

Here To Stay

Without North America’s influence, the world might not have sampled chimichangas, loaded nachos, or hard-shell tacos. Like American-Mexican crowd-pleaser recipes, Indian food may have an Americanized culinary journey ahead. Furthermore, many American families enjoy “taco Tuesday,” so might we see a British-style “curry Thursday” appear?

The likelihood is that American-Indian classics will appear in certain regions, creating original dishes using local ingredients. Whatever the future holds, Indian food is now officially part of the American cultural experience.

Maike Corbett | Wealth of Geeks

This article was produced by Media Decision and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.


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