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Knights Of The Raj Exhibition at Birmingham Museum

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by ABC Writer (subscribe)
Freelance journalist with a passion for theatre, the arts, food and books.
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Food History of Indian Restaurants in Birmingham
Birmingham is renowned for its curry houses and Balti Belt but a new free exhibition takes the lid off the food culture to reveal its beginnings in the city.

Knights of the Raj exhibition , Birmingham museum and art gallery
Find out all about the beginnings of Balti in Birmingham

Knights Of The Raj exhibition at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery in Victoria Square gives an insightful explanation on the migration of Bangladeshi people to Birmingham and how it led to Indian food restaurants gradually becoming a regular sight.

The riveting free event features wonderful photographs, biographies and stories from people involved and artefacts to recreate some of the city's first curry houses. It runs until January 7, 2018, but is closed on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year's Day.

Knights of the Raj, Birmingham museum and art gallery
John's was the first restaurant serving curry in Birmingham

There's even the chance to see a recreation of curry houses including Birmingham's first - John's in Steelhouse Lane in the late 1940's - and also original booths from the Koh-I-Noor in Bristol Street, opposite what used to be The Dome nightclub and is now The Academy music venue. That will bring back many memories from those on nights out in the 1970's to '90's.

Although I've lived around Birmingham all my life, I found out quite a few new facts about how the curry culture spread in the city and its beginnings in the UK as far back as 1810.

The first Indian restaurant in the country was back then in London called the Hindoostane Coffee House, run by a Bengali entrepreneur called Sake Dean Mohamed.

Birmingham, knights of the Raj, Koh-I-noor
The original furnishings of the Koh-I-Noor in Birmingham

There's also fascinating facts, figures and maps about migration from Bangladesh due to labour shortages in Britain during and after World War Two. Originally heading to British shores as merchant sailors, or lascars, many diversified into factories like BSA before becoming chefs.

Interestingly, there are around 33,000 Brummies now who are of Bangladeshi heritage - about 3% of the city's population.

Knights of the Raj exhibition, Birmingham museum and art gallery
Vintage photos from curry houses in Birmingham are a delight

The history and hardships of many Bangladeshi families in Birmingham is riveting, as are the photos and accessories like vintage menus and leaflets. One for Manzil Restaurant talks about how it is specialising in 'handi meals', which would have been the precursor to take-aways.

There's even a great photo of Roy Wood from bands ELO, The Move and Wizzard enjoying a night out having a curry.

Knights of the Raj, Birmingham museum and art gallery exhibition, Roy wood, wizzard
Roy Wood from ELO and Wizzard

Curries are part and parcel of Birmingham culture these days but finding out its origins in the city adds an extra dimension of understanding. It's also very entertaining.

Knights of the Raj has been carefully put together across two rooms to bring to life the characters who headed this food revolution and the places. It's a fascinating exhibition you won't want to miss.

Knights Of The Raj - Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
23 Sep - 7 Jan 2018
Monday - Thursday 10am - 5pm
Friday 10.30am - 5pm
Saturday and Sunday 10am - 5pm
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Why? Find out about the history of Curry houses and Baltis in Birmingham
When: Until January 7, 2018
Phone: 0121 348 8000
Where: Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
Cost: Free
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