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Desi culture upheld as an important part of the British pub scene

Desi pubs are gaining in recognition following one man’s mission to show how British and Indian culture go hand-in-hand.

The term desi, which is often colloquially used to refer to the people, culture and products of India, has been described as a way to identify recipes, dishes and culture with original roots in Eastern fare. Sadly, as a pub term, the word desi has been long overlooked, despite having historical gravitas.

Speaking to db, writer, author and former British Guild of Beer Writers director David Jesudason said: “I never had desi pubs growing up. I only heard the word desi at Asian friends’ houses. ‘I’ll have my chai desi-style’ that kind of thing. I always felt like I wasn’t a proper Asian as my parents brought me up to be British and didn’t introduce me to any non-white culture – my dad was Indian, born in Singapore, my mum was Malaysian. Apart from food that is.”

Jesudason explained: “I always thought that pubs were white spaces as my first drink was in a racist pub where I was called a “taxi driver” for being the only brown drinker – the town I grew up in in those days had very few non-white people. Then I found desi pubs. The first was the Blue-Eyed Maid in Borough when I was in mid 20s – now sadly shut. But trips to Southall and Smethwick opened my eyes up to brown empowered landlords and a desi drinking culture that I finally felt a part of. However, these weren’t brown spaces – but diverse spaces where white people were very proud of their desi pubs too. I felt a tinge of anger as beer writers should have covered these places before but it was an opportunity for me to write about a subject that should – and is now – being celebrated.”

Jesudason is set to release a book available via the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) that details the very best desi pubs across the country run by British-Indian landlords who have stamped their unique identity on a beloved institution and helped to challenge our preconceptions of the pub customer.

According to Jesudason: “The books can act as a guidebook – I certainly picked my favourites for good food – but it’s the landlords, kitchen staff and drinkers whose stories I tell. It’s about how the diaspora forged lives for themselves and then changed Britain for the better. We don’t really celebrate the successes of multiculturalism – especially post Brexit – but desi pubs show how far we’ve come.”

In the battle for greater equality, fair representation and non-discriminatory or racist, sexist or xenophobic behaviour in pubs and across the beer industry, the enlightenment that Jesudason offers in his book has been welcomed by pub and beer lovers, keen to find out the best places to indulge in the very best of Anglo-Indian pub food, drink and culture.

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