From the British Raj to Modern Indian Restaurants, This Spicy Dish is Growing in Popularity
It’s a spicy dish made with meats or vegetables marinated in a thick sauce. It was once ranked as the United Kingdom’s #1 favourite dish at Indian restaurants. It was first created during the British Raj as a means of reheating leftovers—a practice that was then uncommon in India, particularly amongst the Hindu people. It’s called jhalfrezi, and it is a delicious dish popular both in India and around the world, especially among lovers of spicy food.
What Is It?
Also known as jalfrezi, jaffrazi, jalfryji, and many other transliterations, its name is believed to be derived from the Bengali jh¬āl, or “spicy,” and the Urdu or Farsi word parhezī—a word whose meaning is disputed, but might mean “suitable for diet,” or perhaps refer to a person with discerning tastes or the process of frying. It’s a dish commonly made by marinating meat, fish, or vegetables in a thick gravy or sauce. The sauce is made from tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, and spices mixed into oil. It also includes green chillies, and is therefore very spicy.
The exact origin of jhalfrezi is somewhat under debate, since the name of the man credited with its invention—Lord Marcus Sandys, also credited with inventing Worcestershire sauce—can refer to a number of people, but none of them fit the story 100% accurately. Regardless, the story goes that a Lord Marcus Sandys was particularly fond of spicy food, and not at all into wasting food. While in Hindu culture, the eating of leftovers was a taboo (the belief was that it may be contaminated with saliva, therefore subjecting eaters to the risk of contamination, loss of status, and moral degradation), it was no big deal to the British. By mixing leftover morsels with spices, the earliest incarnation of this dish was born, and eventually, Indian restaurants began to refine the recipe. Today it is a sort of curry stir-fry made with fresh ingredients, and its popularity is continually growing.
“UK’s No. 1 Dish”
Indian food is popular all over the world, thanks to its variety, flavour, and heartiness. While Canadians certainly love it, the British are head-over-heels for it—Indian restaurants are incredibly common in the United Kingdom, and even English and Scottish pubs (both locally and abroad) serve curries and other Indian dishes. In a poll conducted in 2011, jhalfrezi was voted as the UK’s top Indian dish, with 21% of the vote. It was followed by madras (18%) and rogan josh (11%). The same article that made this announcement credited its booming popularity to the increasing tolerance in western palates for spiciness, and of course, the fact that it is a delicious piece of Indian cuisine guaranteed to satisfy.
If you don’t believe it, come down to an Indian restaurant in Ottawa and try jhalfrezi for yourself—you won’t be disappointed.