The Decline and Fall of the House of Curry

Somehow, despite it festering for years now, I’ve been completely clueless about the ongoing crisis in the UK curry industry, as a recent headline in the Independent called it.

The problems are twofold: The government restricted the number of short-term visas for workers outside the EU, and there’s been a vicious spike in world rice prices. Rice now costs over 60 percent more than it did a year ago; basmati’s even more expensive. The curry industry, which is dominated by Bangladeshis, employs roughly 50,000 people, according to the BBC.

The owner of the first British Asian restaurant to be awarded a Michelin star, Tamarind, told the Independent that “[t]he industry risks being destroyed. … Top end restaurants like us are not going to have so much of a problem but the Government risks killing off the local curry house industry.”

Part of the problem is that the government has restricted immigration from the subcontinent because there’s a glut of immigrants from Eastern Europe, many of whom are working in catering. “But Asian restaurant owners say expecting Eastern European workers to know how to cook curries is unrealistic,” says the Independent. Gotta agree: This seems reasonable.

Nevertheless, an immigration spokesperson says that the government is managing “migration in the national interest.” It need hardly be said that this is a tragically impoverished sense of the national interest. Years ago, Calvin Trillin was famously closer to the mark:

When helicopters were snatching people from the grounds of the American embassy compound during the panic of the final Vietcong push into Saigon, I was sitting in front of the television set shouting, ‘Get the chefs! Get the chefs!’

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