Those who attended the Thame Food Festival last year don’t need reminding it was a remarkable event which attracted hundreds of foodies, not just from Oxfordshire, but the country. Next week (October 7-13) has been designated National Curry Week, to heighten our awareness of this popular Indian cuisine and create a platform on which to raise funds for charities, concentrating on those who are malnourished and poverty-stricken. Award-winning food writer and actress Madhur Jaffrey opens her latest book Curry Nation (Ebury Press, £20) by stating that “if Britain once colonised India, India has now returned the favour by watching spellbound as its food completely colonised Britain”. Madhur Jaffrey has probably increased our appreciation of curry more than any other celebrity, which is why she has been dubbed Queen of Curry. Her publications include the acclaimed The Curry Bible, which brings together all her years of experience as a cook and which, as the title suggests, contains virtually everything we need to know to produce wholesome, tasty Indian food. Now she brings us a book that highlight 100 of our favourite curries inspired by of cooking of the Punjab, Kerala, Goa and Bengal and a host of other states that conjure up India’s rich diversity of flavour. While the dishes she features are traditional classics she has given many of them a modern twist.

It was cookery writer Hannah Glass who first wrote a recipe calling for coriander and Indian spices in a dish featured in The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, published in 1747. Later she went on to add turmeric for colour and ginger to give it a kick.

Commercial curry powder was available by 1780 and featured in popular recipe books that were now beginning to include curries. The word curry originates from the Tamil word kari, meaning spiced sauce. Although it originated in India it was adapted and adopted by the British Raj. While most curry dishes contain a sauce derived from yoghurt, coconut milk, legume puree or stock, there are dry curries in which the liquid is allowed to evaporate during the cooking process, leaving the other ingredients coated with the remaining spice mixture.

By 1861 when Mrs Beeton published her Book of Household Management, 14 recipes for curry were featured, many of which call for curry powder to be stirred into the stock towards the end of the cooking process, rather than cooked in hot oil as we do today to bring out the flavour.

The first Indian restaurant to open in the UK was the Hindostancee Coffee House, London. Unfortunately, despite offering comfort and serving Indian dishes described as being in the highest perfection, it filed for bankruptcy within two years of opening. It seems we were not quite ready for spicy food then. But that was during the early 19th century — by the middle of the 20th century Indian restaurants with their starched white table cloths, highly polished silver serving dishes and red flock wallpaper were opening up in major towns all over the country. The Taj Mahal, Turl Street, opened by the Bahadur brothers in 1945 was Oxford’s first.

Going out for an Indian became an exciting way of spending an evening, and vying with each other to see who could eat the hottest Vindaloo was almost mandatory. All curries at this point were assumed Indian, even though they may have been cooked by chefs from Pakistan or Bangladesh using ingredients from those areas. Today Britain boasts at least 10,000 curry restaurants generating £3 billion a year. Apparently going out for an Indian meal accounts for two thirds of meals eaten away from home. Those who do eat at home often go for supermarket ready-meals spending as much as £600 million a year on fresh and frozen curries, bottled cook-in sauces and spices. During the forthcoming National Curry Week, the curry capital of Britain will be decided. This is an annual event organised on behalf of the Federation of Specialist Restaurants. This year Oxford is one of the finalists. Last year more than a quarter of a million people voted for their favourite city with Wolverhampton winning the prize for the third time.

This year four restaurants have been chosen to represent Oxford: Malikas 218 Cowley Road, Qumins 86 St Clement Street, Aziz 230 Cowley Road and Spice Lounge, 193 Banbury Road. As the winner will not be announced until October 14 with the award presentation taking place on October 27, it is not possible to reveal which city has won yet. It is possible, however, to encourage you to visit one or more of the short-listed restaurants and taste the wonderful meals they are offering in this the 16th year of the National Curry Week. One of the delights of eating a curry is the fact it can be a really friendly experience, with everyone ordering their favourite dish which is then shared by everyone. This, it seems is one of the many reasons why we opt to go out for a curry so regularly.