Spice up your life with home made Garam Masala! A recipe and some social history of Glasgow’s ‘Ruby Murray’ culture.

By Dream Angus

This is substantially a recipe article.If all you are interested in is the recipe then skip straight to the bottom and you will find what you are looking for.Otherwise continue reading for some curry culture.


The curry has become a favourite take away meal of choice but it was not always the case. Even in Glasgow, multiple winner of the curry capital awards, its introduction was slow to take off at first. Back in 1964 when the Shish Mahal restaurant opened in Glasgow’s West End in Gibson Street, moving later to Park Road, the style of eating was quite different from now. In 1979 to mark the restaurants 15th birthday the owner Mr Ali Ahmed Aslam, known as just Mr Ali, rolled back the prices to 1964 levels causing the line of hairy and hungry students to extend around the corner. Initially the seating was bench style long tables.The refinements of the cosy tables for two or four came later.


Mr Ali’s father, Noor Mohammed had opened the very first one in 1959 called the ‘Green Gates’ in Bank Street. Popular with students attending nearby Glasgow University it was bound to grow into something bigger. That part of town was the scene of many a curry ‘stand off’ between rival restaurants like the Koh-I-Noor and the Shish in what became known as the ‘curry canyon’. Competing for the oldest curry house title both establishments became embedded in the city’s culture and are still trading and doing well. Others have followed in their footsteps taking Glasgow curry houses into a whole range of different levels from Indian tapas to very elegant fine dining Indian and Pakistani cuisine.

The city of Glasgow’s love of curry or a ‘Ruby Murray’ goes back to days of Empire and soldiers and sailors serving abroad. Men served in India for long periods and in some cases families took the long passage to India. My Mothers sister was named ‘Letitia’ after the ship she was born in. Now Glasgow finds itself as the home of the famous Chicken Tikka Masala having been created at the Shish Mahal. Other restaurants are also available and going out and about near to the Kelvingrove Museum of an evening you will regularly see lines of people waiting outside Mother India Such is the love of a good curry.

Interestingly all three Glasgow curry institutions have made their own recipes available in book form so that customers can try out their skills at home. As someone who loves to cook I am now onto my second edition of the Shish Mahal Cook Book. The first one got so messed up over the years that I decided to get a ‘clean’ copy and in the process I bought one as a gift for a curry loving friend teaching in Lithuania. He was nearly in tears when it arrived. It is from that book that I choose to share the most basic of recipes – How to make your own Garam Masala. It is one of the most basic spice mixes and very versatile. Most spice jars in your kitchen are probably very old. Spices loose their ‘zing’ if left too long but dried whole spices when heated and prepared can really spice things up.

So why not ‘spice up your life’? We are not talking about ‘heat’ here, we are talking about flavour. Heat comes from chilli, this has no chilli.

There are many variations on Garam Masala but Mr Ali’s is very simple and tasty. First printed in 1981 the Cook Book I am referring to has been re-printed 9 times. So there must have been many dusty copies renewed just like my own.

The Recipe :

Garama Masala is a blend of spices which have been roasted whole. They are then ground together to form a powder.The recipe can vary from across different regions of India and Pakistan. It is what makes what we know as ‘curry’ such a diverse dish.

It is the roasting of the spices which brings out the flavours. You can grind the finished result in a coffee grinder (easiest) but other alternatives are blenders, liquidisers, or the good old fashioned mortar and pestle. Even putting them in a bag and rolling with a rolling pin will do it!

No chilli in Garam Masala so for whatever dish you are doing you can control the heat to whatever level you wish.

  • Coriander seed – 4 tablespoons
  • White Cummin seed- 2.5 tablespoons
  • Stick of Cinnamon- 4 inches
  • Black Cardomom seed- 2 teaspoons

These amounts are true to the recipe but I have found if you treble them you get enough to fill a good 500 gram container like this old thing.


Put the coriander in a heavy, deep frying pan and roast over a reasonably high heat.You will smell the aroma coming from the seeds.Keep an eye on it.You do not want to burn it. Empty the roasted seeds into your grinder or put to the one side and repeat with all the other ingredients, heating each one individually. When finished grind them all together and take a satisfying sniff while patting yourself on the back.

Cumin is rich in iron, which makes garam masala good for promoting blood oxygenation and to prevent conditions like anemia. It also helps improve digestion and reduces the risk of contracting cancer.

Garam Masala is a basic ingredient in curry. You can use it by the tablespoon full as it is not about chilli heat. There are of course other ways of using this spice mix which you can read about here.

And finally as Spring looks to have finally sprung, you can grow coriander in your garden and harvest your own leaves and seeds. Here is how to harvest and dry your own coriander

Enjoy your curry adventures.

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2 replies »

  1. I was born and grew up in Bradford – many parallels.
    A night out always ended with a curry at a curry house – we couldn’t afford restaurant prices – your mention of the long tables brought back many good memories – and scents and flavours!

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