The sad case of the wiggly chapati

Will a change in U.K. immigration laws doom the most savory relic of the British Empire?

Published March 20, 2008 8:17PM (EDT)

A specter is haunting the curry houses of Great Britain.

Tightened immigration requirements in the U.K., set to kick in November, will require that immigrants from the subcontinent, hitherto brought in on sponsored visas to work as cooks in the thousands of Indian restaurants that are the U.K.'s most delicious hangover from empire, must now speak fluent English and possess a "high-level" cooking certificate.

Scottish curry house owners have already demonstrated in protest of the new rules, reports Julian Guthrie in the Financial Times. Combined with higher commodity prices for rice and spices, a devastating shakeout looms. And this is one labor problem that doesn't appear solvable by simply offering higher wages or looking elsewhere within the European Union for workers.

The government has suggested that curry houses should employ east Europeans, who need no such qualifications. "We tried that, but it didn't work," said restaurateur Abdul Latif, glumly watching his depleted kitchen staff at work at his Black Country establishment. He added: "We had an east European sous chef, but his chapatis were wiggly at the edges, like maps of Russia."

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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