Tributes to much-loved Muslim chef who invented Britain’s favourite curry

Tributes have poured in following the death of Ali Ahmed Aslam, the Glasgow restaurateur believed to have created one of Britain’s favourite national dishes — the chicken tikka masala.

The much-loved Glaswegian legend behind Shish Mahal died on Monday and his funeral was held at Glasgow Central Mosque on Tuesday.  

“Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un (Verily we belong to Allah, and truly to Him shall we return),” the restaurant posted on its Facebook page about Ali’s death.  

“May Allah (SWT) grant him a high place in Jannah and the family sabr during this difficult time,” added the statement.

Shish Mahal opened in 1964, but it was in the 70s that “Mr Ali”, as locals affectionally called him, reportedly changed Britain’s curry tastes forever.

Many have laid claim to creating chicken tikka masala – once dubbed unofficially as Britain’s best national dish – but Ali’s story is the most well known.  

In an interview with the AFP news agency, Ali said he came up with a creamy tomato-based sauce to moisten the dish after a customer asked him to make a sauce for his dry tikka.

He said: “Chicken tikka masala was invented in this restaurant. We used to make chicken tikka, and one day a customer said, ‘I’d take some sauce with that, this is a bit dry.’

“We thought we’d better cook the chicken with some sauce. So from here we cooked chicken tikka with the sauce that contains yoghurt, cream, spices. It’s a dish prepared according to our customer’s taste. Usually they don’t take hot curry – that’s why we cook it with yoghurt and cream.”

In 2009, a campaign was launched to officially recognise Glasgow as the birthplace of chicken tikka masala and to grant the curry EU Protected Designation of Origin status.

Tributes flood in

The sad news of Ali’s death prompted hundreds of comments on the restaurant’s Facebook page.

“RIP Curry King and legend and a gentleman,” said Fraser McNeill.

“Very very sad. May Allah (SWT) grant Bhai Jaan Ali Ahmed the highest place in Jannat ul Firdous Aameen and saber to all the family,” said Riffat Ihsan.

Zaheer Sadiq  added: “Inna lilahi wa inna ilaihi rajioon. May Allah (swt) give Paaji Ali Ahmed the highest of abodes in Jannat and sabr to the whole family. My mum is incredibly saddened at the loss of her nephew and is sending her duas to you all.”

Martin Kelly said: “So, so sorry to learn of your loss. His contribution to the life and culture of our city and beyond is measureless. He was a true gentleman. RIP Mr Ali.”

“RIP Mr Ali…What can u say, over 50 years of serving Fantastic Food to the people of Glasgow is incredible…. Rest Easy Mr Ali, a True Iconic Glaswegin Legend..” said Robert Macdonald.

Jacqueline Wilson added: “Sad news indeed. The best news when we were wee was to hear we were going to the Shish for a curry on a Friday night. Mr Ali was always there to welcome you in. To me it was the home of the Glasgow curry back in the early 70s.”

Curry – Britain’s national dish

Curry was popularised in the country by the influx of Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh and Pakistan during the 50s and 60s.

These immigrants established their own businesses, including restaurants and takeaways, and introduced the British public to a wide variety of spicy and flavourful dishes.

The power of curry as a cuisine in the UK is a testament to the cultural exchange and diversity that has shaped the country’s culinary landscape.

The first curry house in the UK was opened in 1810 by Sake Dean Mahomed. A Bengali Muslim traveller, Mahomed served curry in his Hindoostane Coffee House in London, a popular gathering place for intellectuals and artists.

Mahomed also wrote several books on Indian cuisine and culture, including “The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy.” He is also credited with introducing the concept of the shampoo and massage to the UK.

Image: Shish Mahal Facebook


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