Credit: Ernest Shiu

Glasgow’s multicultural culinary creations

By Ernest Shiu

Beyond their scents and flavours, every dish has a story to tell.

Aside from its vibrant music and art scenes, Glasgow is also the cradle of gastronomy. Although Glaswegian cuisine is seldom in the spotlight compared to other grand cities like London, Paris, and Milan, many well-known dishes available nowadays have strong ties with our city. Indeed, beyond captivating flavours and memorable scents, the Glaswegian food also possesses a greater significance – they represent the cultural diversity and lifestyle in the city. What does the food tell us about the place we’re in?

Chicken tikka masala

Created by the Glaswegian chef Ali Ahmed Aslam, owner of Shish Mahal restaurant in the West End, the first chicken tikka masala was made from the successful experiment of mixing tomato soup with curry. Chicken tikka masala has been my guilty pleasure for quite a while. The sweet-sourness of the tomatoes and the spiciness of the curry make a symphonic sensation. Indeed, every time I order Indian takeaway, chicken tikka masala has to go with a slice of well-baked naan bread. The way how the naan bread soaks up the curry brings my Friday night dinner to a whole new level! 

Yet, moving away from my obsession with chicken tikka masala, I believe the dish has a profound significance to the community. In his 2009 interview with the BBC, Ali stated: “Glaswegians loved the flavour of Asian spices but still wanted a bit of gravy on their meat.” Chicken tikka masala represents not only people’s craving for innovative food but also a celebration of multiculturalism. With food being an integral part of a culture, the invention of the dish symbolically marks the importance of cultural exchanges and the celebration of diversity within the community. It highlights the fact that, through the process of experimenting with cultures and ingredients, new ideas will come to life. Ali’s bold choice of condensing tomato soup and adding it into curry not only pinpoints his excellent culinary instinct, but also his openness to combining new culture into his cooking.

The munchy box

The Glasgow salad that I love (and hate) at the same time. While it is difficult to trace the origin of the munchy box, the popularity has never ceased. As an infamous post-night-out treat, munchy box plays a huge part in party scenes in Glasgow. Indeed, with the demise of the shipping industry, the city has been transformed into a safe haven for independent music, gigs, and raves. The proliferation of night-out options fosters takeaway businesses to tap into the opportunity by offering food that suits the palette of the younger generation – crispy and greasy finger food.

Certainly, the cultural significance of a munchy box is more than the socio-economic shift of the city; it also highlights the cultural diversity of the city. You often see a munchy box as a buffet served in a pizza box: kebabs, chow-mein, fried nuggets, onion rings, and a tub of curry sauce. The varied boxes are often prepared by Chinese, Indian, and Italian takeaway restaurants. Although it may look messy at first to have a pile of different cuisines, the way the foods complement one another highlights the current formation of the multicultural city we are in. As poet Sean Wai Keung commented, the munchy box manifests “Glasgow’s diversity of cultures, and also works against the idea of authenticity within those same cultures.” Agreeing with Keung, the invention of the munchy box represents the social integration of different ethnic groups within the Glaswegian community – after all, with spring rolls, pakoras, and deep fried Mars Bars all together in one box, who wouldn’t be buzzing?

Glaswegian ‘fizz’ and booze 

Beyond blending with other cultures, Glasgow gastronomy also thrives on its local cultural roots. With drinking being an integral aspect of Glaswegian lifestyle, the city offers top-notch beverages for every possible occasion. From Tennent’s lager to Irn-Bru, Glasgow has been the powerhouse of inventing excellent quality drinks. Indeed, the long history of the city being the birthplace of several reputable beverage brands is not a coincidence; it is established upon the fundamental Glaswegian values – hospitality, conviviality and desire for a good time.

The ideals of being welcoming to guests and valuing jovial moments are still very much centered in the Glaswegian community. Although physical gatherings are prohibited during lockdown; these Glaswegian values adapt to a new, digital space. After all, it is always the right time to have a pint of Tennents while catching up with friends on Zoom.

As Winona LaDuke once stated: “Food has a culture. It has a history. It has a story. It has relationships.” Glaswegian cuisine represents the inclusive, multicultural community we are in. From dishes invented from diverse cultures to beverages being the symbol of Glaswegian values, the gastronomy scene is a perfect snapshot of the rich, cultural landscape of the city. Indeed, beyond scents and flavours, every dish has a story to tell.


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