I was reading the FT online in the dark on Sunday morning last week, while the sourdough was proving and a batch of apple&mince pies were baking: it was an article called the Great British Curry House Crisis. It was about how small 'Indian' restaurants were having to adapt to survive in the world as we now live it. In the second half of the 20thC, the curry house took off across Britain as enterprising stokers from Calcutta or Chennai jumped ship in some British port and decided to cook like their grandmothers did back home. About 80% of Indian restaurants are owned and operated by Bangladeshis, most of them from Sylhet where Bangladesh borders Assam. When they needed a bus-boy or a chef or a plongeur, they wrote home and sent for their younger brother or cousin of nephew. They sent their daughters home to be married, so the braid joining Sylhet with Bradford and Leicester grew stronger. You'll put up with a lot if you're working for family and however rough the accommodation or long the hours, they were still better than conditions or opportunities in Bangladesh. That's no longer possible: the British government doesn't need to import cheap labour, they need to shorten the dole queues. The other side of the squeeze is economies of scale. I wrote recently that the price of cloves had halved, but that is a fall from a very high price; the prices of cloves, cumin, turmeric, coriander have all gone up but the competition is fierce to the price of a curry can't increase in parallel. The solution seems to be grow or die. Another problem is that the food engineers of Marks & Spencer can create a product that is better than the average curry house - although less exciting than the best. Brits like curry but they also like to eat at home in front of the telly and they want reliable rather than challenging. Like the pubs before them, a lot of family-run curry houses are going to the wall. Comments on Metafilter give the perspective in Seattle, Portland and LA.
It is a peculiarity of the Irish fish&chips industry that, like Sylhet and curry, almost all the Italian chippers hail from a tiny village in the Appenines South East of Rome called San Donato Val di Comino, the family names there are Borza, Macari and Cafolla. Wherever you see these all over Ireland you can be sure of a single and chips or a one-and-one, but it's only in Wexford that you find the rissole. A tuthree years ago a couple, about my age, went on holiday to a village near San Donato and Himself found the parents of a pal from school. They used to run the local chip-shop but had retired to the warmth of the ancestral village. He was welcomed with open arms. I daresay the school-pal is now working in financial services or driving a bus - anything rather than serving battered cod to well-soaked people as the pubs close on Friday nights.