IVS volunteer Josef Butler is from London and is a graduate of History and Politics from the University of Leicester. He is currently living in Funchal and volunteering with AAUMa as part of the History Tellers programme.

How Indian cuisine found its way to Madeira (en route from England and South Africa)

Paradoxically, Indian food is the national dish of the United Kingdom. For many British people, a curry is a frequent treat, so my surprise was palpable when I found several Indian restaurants in Funchal serving British-Indian fusion classics such as Tikka Masala. Perhaps this is a consequence of the myriad British tourists who holiday in Madeira every year. But there is usually a deeper justification.

My initial assumption was that one of the many British expatriates of Madeira’s history had popularised the cuisine here. This notion was substantiated by the presence of an Indian Infantry Division at the Jesuits’ College in 1941. The company was raised in Secunderabad and eventually fought against the Japanese in Burma during the Second World War. What their business was in Madeira is unclear, but it is plausible that they introduced Indian cuisine to Madeira.

An alternative explanation points to the connection between Portugal and South Africa. The shared history of these two nations dates back to Vasco da Gama’s journey around the Cape of Good Hope in 1497 (coincidentally en route to India), and today around 100,000 people of Portuguese heritage live in South Africa, many of Madeiran descent. However around 2,500,000 Indians live in South Africa, primarily in Durban, which has been dubbed the largest Indian city outside of India. The South African flags that adorn several of Funchal’s Indian restaurants would support the idea that the movement of people between Madeira and South Africa is, in fact, responsible for the introduction of Britain’s favourite meal to Funchal.

Funchal’s history is defined by multiculturalism, and I struggle to think of anything more multicultural than eating Britain’s national dish in a South African restaurant in the capital city of a Portuguese autonomous region.