WHEN the British left India in 1947, their centuries-long love of curry went with them. Over the years, British soldiers and civilians working in India developed a liking for the hot, spicy foods of the sub-continent and brought the curries home.
Today, Britain is a nation of curry fanatics – it's said there are more Indian restaurants in London than in Delhi and, say some aficionados, the curries in London are better.
When the British established themselves in India, it soon became clear that the eating habits of home had to change to accommodate the hot, steamy days and nights. Given the climate, lunch soon became a much lighter meal for the Brits.
But what to call it? Somehow it became known as “tiffin,” taken from “tiffing,” an old English dialect or slang word for taking a tot of diluted liquor. Why it was not called luncheon is unknown.
Soon having “a spot of tiffin” could mean any culinary indulgence between breakfast and dinner – a bit like merienda in the Philippines.
The tradition of having “a spot of tiffin” is alive and well among expatriate Brits in many parts of the world, including the Philippines.
Every Friday, the Manila British and Commonwealth Club, the oldest membership club in the Philippines dating back to before 1877, presents a Curry Tiffin lunch for members and guests in the Heritage Room at the Elks Club in Makati.
The Friday curry tradition was started around 1893 by the club's associate, the Tiffin Club. Apart from the war years, curry lovers in Manila, have enjoyed a selection of authentic Indian curries almost every Friday since then. When the Tiffin Club closed in 1956, its operations reverted to the Manila Club which carried on the tradition.
But it’s not just Brits who enjoy tucking into tasty authentic Indian curry on a Friday. The lunches are also popular with Filipinos. Bacolod’s very own multi-awarded film-maker Peque Gallaga was a recent guest and said the curries were “outstanding,” adding that “the garam masala in combination with the other spices produced an evocation of the British Raj in the middle of Makati.”
And popular actress and TV host Tessie Tomas was spotted at the club recently enjoying a curry with her British husband Dr. Roger Pullin.
The club’s chef, Esrael “Ace” Vergara, says the club offers a wide variety of curries, including beef rendang, beef vindaloo, chicken molee, chicken tandoori, and beef kofta. “Most of the recipes have been handed down over the years from chef-to-chef,” he says.
The word tiffin is still widely used in India for any hot light meal or snack taken at any time during the day.
Millions of Indians each day carry their tiffin to work in a tiffin box – consisting of a stack of two or three steel or ceramic compartments for each dish. Tiffin boxes can also be found in many other Southeast Asian countries and the fashion is catching on in Europe.