Asian domestic servants helped change the way we eat, according to a researcher at The University of Western Australia who looks at history through food.
Dr Cecilia Leong-Salobir's new book, ‘Food Culture in Colonial Asia: a taste of empire,' is a social history of how colonials ate in India, Malaysia and Singapore between 1858 and 1963.
In it, she describes the development of favourites including curries, mulligatawny, kedgeree, country captain (fried chicken), pish pash (savoury rice gruel) and sago pudding - foods that did not exist before colonisation but which evolved through the process of negotiation and collaboration between the expatriate British and local people, especially servants.
During the three and a half years of research, Dr Leong-Salobir scoured domestic cookbooks, manuals, memoirs, diaries and travelogues in libraries throughout Britain. She also visited clubs, hill stations, hotels and restaurants in former colonies and interviewed 40 ex-colonial people now in their 70s and 80s who had fond memories of the food cooked for them by their servants.
"The food tended to be blander than the local food but spicier than food in Britain at the time," she said.
"While the household-management manuals gave memsahibs advice, such as how to maintain a social distance from their servants, I found that the servants had their own ideas about how the British should eat, such as giving them more expensive food.
"Other issues about food choices included availability and the servants' religions. For instance, Hindu servants didn't cook beef and Muslim servants avoided pork. The British were keen on establishing clubs wherever they went - and they even had bread and mutton clubs to ensure supply," she said.
Dr Leong-Salobir is Research Coordinator at UWA's Centre for Western Australian History.
Food Culture in Colonial Asia: a taste of empire is published by Routledge.