There was a period in colonial history from 1858 to 1947 when the British Empire maintained rule over India. This was known as the British Raj, also known as the Crown rule in India.
By 1880, a new middle class had arisen in India and among other aspects from the infusion of a new culture, a new Indian food category derived from Anglo and Indian food recipes, developed as the resident British housewives interacted with their Indian cooks. In a British-run household, the “Memsahib’s cooking” was a hybrid style that evolved when the British “Lady of the House” asked her Indian household cooks to prepare traditional British dishes.
Author, Utsa Ray, in her well-researched book, ‘Culinary Culture in Colonial India: A Cosmopolitan Platter and the Middle-Class,’ examines new culinary experiences as a result of colonial modernity among the colonial middle class in Bengal. Ray reviews a range of topics including the early formation of the Anglo-Indian culinary tendencies in an excerpt that follows:
“In her recent work on the culture of food in colonial Asia, Cecilia Leong-Salobir has argued that the cooks working in British households in colonial Asia did much more than just menial work. These cooks were actually responsible for the purchase of food for the Anglo-Indians and thus contributed hugely to the emergence of colonial cuisine by bringing in changes in the diet of the British. However, in a middle-class Bengali household a cook did not wield any such power even unwittingly. Middle-class Bengali women had to be more active in her kitchen.”
From these beginnings, ‘Anglo-Indian cuisine’ – blending European cooking techniques and recipes with local spices, ingredients and methods – took shape and eventually made their way from the Indian sub-continent to the supper clubs of ‘Old Bombay,’ from the 1910’s through the 1940’s, that came to be known as the “old Raj.” Over time, some of the well-known Anglo-Indian dishes include chutneys, salted beef tongue, kedgeree, ball curry, fish rissoles, and mulligatawny soup.
In New York City, The Royal Munkey, at 438 Second Avenue at the corner of East 25 Street, in Manhattan’s Kips Bay neighborhood, is such an Anglo-Indian styled Indian restaurant. The Royal Munkey is a slightly larger space than its elder sibling, The Drunken Munkey at 338 East 92 Street, higher up on the East Side.
The Royal Munkey sports a loungy interior furnished in royal blue and gold trim, with seating that is firm and cushiony to ease back onto and relax. The menu selection recaptures “Old Bombay,” with selections like “Railway Chicken Curry,” “Classic Punjabi Tandoori Chicken,” “Sindhi Fish Curry,” “Goan Pork Vindalu,” “Butter Paneer Tikka Masala,” and other colonial specialties harking back to a previous era of Indian dining.
Even with vegetarian fare, such as the “Garden Vegetable Korma,” The Royal Munkey matches its sibling location, The Drunken Munkey, with the same flavorful appeal, consistency, and buttery smooth flavor-fulness. This is easy to realize when you learn that both restaurants utilize the same executive chef.
Perhaps one non-traditional item the restaurant serves is “Chili Cheese Toast,” spicy but not too hot, which in itself can be a filling appetizer for those just coming in for cocktails and looking for something to nosh on. There is also the Crispy Okra (mildly spicy but certainly not salty) which makes a suitable appetizer before the main course or something to nosh on while just seated for drinks.
But beyond the great Anglo-Indian cuisine offered, the Royal Munkey (similar to The Drunken Munkey) also excels in artisanal cocktail offerings. In a departure from other fine dining restaurants, it really goes out of its way to make the art of the craft cocktail a centerpiece of its offerings. So it is equally a place to bring a party in for a round of special and fun cocktails to sip on as it is to dine at, as it is to enjoy an authentic Anglo-Indian dining experience.
The bar is long (enough) and spacious, and of course there is adequate dining area seating for small groups that just come in for cocktails, with panoramic window views. The Royal Munkey only builds on the success of it’s elder sibling, The Drunken Munkey, and is a destination to strongly consider for cocktails or dining.
There is an Anglo-Indian Association – formerly titled The All India Anglo-Indian Association – that was founded in 1876 and currently headquartered in New Delhi. The All India Anglo-Indian Association is a top level association representing the Anglo-Indian community in India and comprising approximately seventy-odd branches across the country. It is a direct descendent of the Eurasian and Anglo-Indian Association founded on December 16, 1876.
The objects of the association are charitable, educational and cultural. There is also a culinary section of the association listing at least some of the more popular recipes that have been derived from the conjoining of the two cultures. The Association has published a lengthy web page listing of Anglo-Indian food recipes, along with an informative video that can be viewed here.
Find more insights, references and helpful videos connected to this story at the Cool Fire Technology site.