British Speaker leads MPs into curry heaven

By Dipankar De Sarkar, IANS,

London : Order, order: British politicians are addicted to Indian food. And that comes from the Speaker himself.

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Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Finance Minister Alistair Darling famously struck a 400 billion pound bank bailout deal in the darkest days of the recession in October last year over a late-night meal of rice, karahi lamb, tandoori chicken, vegetable curry and aloo gobi.

But there was further proof of politicians’ addiction to Indian food Wednesday night when a large number of them streamed into a House of Commons restaurant and helped themselves generously to their favourite food.

The occasion was a curry competition – an annual affair involving restaurants and chefs from across Britain – and the MPs were led by none other than self-confessed curry addict and newly appointed Speaker John Bercow.

“This is a thoroughly convivial event,” Bercow said of the Tiffin Cup final that is organised every year by Keith Vaz, the MP from Leicester East, a constituency known as Little India for its large number of Indian-origin population.

“I am genuinely passionate about Indian food. I like it and eat it regularly. By a narrow head over Thai food and Italian food, Indian is genuinely my favourite,” Bercow told a packed Bellamy’s, the British Parliament’s exclusive dining room.

A large number of MPs took time off from voting and debating to turn up for the event – and be served an Indian meal of lamb, chicken, dal, paneer and kulfi – a fact that did not escape the Speaker.

“I want to pay tribute to all those who’ve turned up tonight in a spirit of solidarity and – entirely secondarily – have managed to get something to eat and drink. That was no part of their motivation in coming here – it’s important to be clear about that point,” Bercow told his audience of fellow MPs.

The MPs tucked into their curry with great fervour, some returning for a second and even a third helping.

They are part of the process of the Tiffin Cup, as they nominate the best high street Indian restaurant from their constituencies, which are then whittled down to a shortlist before the best three are chosen by a panel of celebrity chefs.

Chris Ruane, one of the MPs present Wednesday night, said he had been addicted to curry since the age of 12, when a cousin returned from Burma with freshly acquired Indian culinary skills.

“I fell in love with Indian food from the moment I first tasted succulent pieces of chicken, slow cooked in Ferns curry sauce, with butter and ghee dripping off them, and the delicious red juice,” Ruane enthused.

The Tiffin Cup 2009 went to the south London restaurant Tamasha, the runner-up was Planet Papadum of Great Yarmouth in northeast England and third place was taken by Haweli Indian of Twyford, southeast England.