Scottish Asian Youth and the Curry Industry

The Scottish Curry Awards have a long and well-established history, beginning their journey in 2007, now heading into their 12th year with the annual ceremony taking place on Monday 15th April at the Marriott Hotel in Glasgow. The awards have recognised the curry industries top restaurants and takeaways year after year, awarding them on the basis of creativity, innovation, quality food and service.

Despite the success stories, the last ten years have not been a song and dance for the Curry industry. Indian restaurants in Scotland have closed at an unprecedented rate, with industry experts relating the problem to strict immigration rules meaning top chefs cannot be recruited from abroad.

The cultural shift in Asian youth moving away from running the family business, and more into 9-5 professions is apparent. Easier access to higher education, changes in cultural attitudes, modern technology and pursuit of sociable working hours may all be decisive factors in this huge change of work pattern in a key demographic.

To learn more about some of the issues surrounding restaurant closures and the role of Asian youth we interviewed two of our younger finalists, both of whom in their late 20s and involved in the Curry industry since their teens, to find out what motivates them to drive their businesses.

Khurum from Zain’s Curry House in Dalry said the following:

“As a young person, I’m involved because I love curry and it literally runs through my veins! I’m from a third generation of Asian business owners in my family; at 18, I was working for the family business and took over at 21, and have since steered the business in a new and exciting direction. I take great pride in being both Scottish and Asian – I have a huge passion for cooking and love seeing the joy it brings customers. With curry comes curiosity and I feel as though I’m helping keep Asian culture alive here in Scotland.

There’s no feeling better than knowing I’m in control of my own success and that I’m creating a legacy from my passion which I hope to pass down to my children one day.

I feel I’ve helped create a real sense of community in Ayrshire and have created jobs for the youth.

It can be quite tricky to find a balance in reaching my customer base while sticking to the traditions of my father and grandfather. I’ve used social media and created an app and website myself to market my business, reach a wide demographic and allow customers to interact directly, to connect with all those who love good quality authentic South-Asian and those that just love coming in for a Korma and a chat. That’s something I feel I’m doing differently to those before me.

I also cook, prepare and manage the business as a whole. I’m proud to be part of a third generation of grafters who aren’t afraid to work hard and create a legacy. The hours may be long and entrepreneurial spirit is a must but the industry won’t keep up if it lacks young people with the same motivation as those before us to keep curry hot on the menu. If our parents could start an empire from their kitchens at home, who knows what we could achieve armed with technology, innovation and fresh ingredients!”

Sandy from The Indian Scene in Paisley had this to say:

“I started in the industry part-time when I was 16 years old working in my uncle’s restaurant in Kilmarnock, cleaning toilets and packing orders. I was studying at the School of Art when I dropped out at 19 to help the family business, which was when I learnt waitering, customer service, kitchen prep and built up a vast knowledge of Indian food. I also went on to catering events over weekends.

In 2012, I moved to Australia for a year where I worked in hospitality and learnt about the art of fine dining at the Titanic Restaurant and worked my way into a large catering company to cater for VIP boxes in Australian stadiums.

I returned and went straight back to work for family businesses, then went on to open my own takeaway in partnership with my uncle in 2014. I used social media, ordering systems linked to calls and created an app to promote us. I now own the Indian Scene with my dad and have brought along all the skills I gained through my early years in the curry industry.

I’m planning to finish off my education which I’d do alongside work – I’m always thinking of new concepts and I’m considering going back to my roots and venturing into Indian Street Food!

I have a strong attachment to the curry industry as I love it – it’s my passion, what I grew up around and I feel the atmosphere is irreplaceable. I love the financial independence and how great my knowledge of food and attention to detail is now.

I’ve learnt about the importance of being unique and offering customers something they won’t find elsewhere. I also think that it’s slightly easier for me to understand customer needs and don’t necessarily have the same language barriers elder generations had, even just by having a Scottish accent.

I think with the increase in people dining out and how social media has fuelled this, the profit margins are wider than ever! I’d love to see more young people like myself involved in this industry – we need to keep passing the spices on generation to generation.”

Lizzie Collingham author of Curry: A Biography said “more than any other ethnic food, the British have made curry their own.” Curry is at the heart and soul of integration between many communities and a much-loved facet of Scottish identity.

If Brexit is unable to provide the responsive immigration rules that will re-open the path to recruiting chefs from the Indian sub-continent, the curry industry will inevitably continue to suffer. If the Curry industry is to continue flourishing and serving quality authentic South-Asian cuisine, it will require motivation and willingness from those dedicated to keeping it alive.

Perhaps Asian youth in Scotland are the beacon of hope we all need during these uncertain times. Khurum and Sandy and are shining examples of young people who have found their calling in the Curry industry through growth, sustainability and determination; prominent qualities in past generations of Scottish Asians that will undoubtedly be passed down, and hopefully translated enough in order to keep the Scottish Curry Industry alive and thriving.