The first Indian restaurant built and run on foreign soil in the year 1810 was done by the efforts of Sake Dean Mahomed, the famous Indian-Bengali traveller, surgeon, entrepreneur, imperial soldier, author, and the man behind shampoo’s famous significance in the West today.
He was born in 1759 in Patna, then part of Bengal Presidency in British India, to a well-known upper class family, which for consecutive generations worked under regimes from the Mughals to the British East India Company.
After a brief stint in the army of the East India Company, Sake Dean moved to Cork, Ireland in 1784 following one of his seniors in the army. It was there that the young Sake was flabbergasted by the vastness and grandeur of the West. In a cultural break with tradition, he married a local Irish woman two years later, prompting sharp rebukes around, and later on moved to London and then Brighton in Britain.
Sake Dean was also a brilliant chronicler of his time, whose stirring and stimulating travel book about India, “The travels of Dean Mahomet” published in 1794, made him the first Indian author published in English offering a fascinating description of the cities and traditions experienced in the East and the West by a colonial subject himself.
Arriving in Brighton sees the trajectory of Sake’s life change and largely our modern lifestyles in that regard when he introduced head massages for the public in a delightful spa allowing people to eke out a moment of bliss and tranquillity.
In 1814, he opened up Mahomed’s Baths, a spa that offered patients with muscular ailments to have massages as well as relaxing herbal steam baths using the herbal medicines coupled with oils he had picked up from the East.
Therapeutic steams and vapor baths were offered under the name of “The Indian Medicated Vapour Bath” which served as treatment for ailments ranging from old sprains to joint pains to regular aches.
The massages with oil had gifted the modern English lexicon the word – shampoo, which itself is derived from the Hindi word champo, which meant, ‘to smear or massage’. Champo itself originates from the champa flower from which fragrant hair oil is extracted.
The shampooing or therapeutic massaging became a huge hit amongst the upper-class elite and slowly, Sake had established himself as a household name in Britain. Thus, the famous moniker of the ‘Shampooing Surgeon’ was born, for one who counted British royals such as George IV and William IV amongst his trusted clients, later having the honour of a Royal Warrant conferred on him.
Before setting up his spa bath offering herbal and shampoo treatments, Sake Dean tried his luck with the culinary arts as mentioned in the beginning.
The Hindoostane Coffee House was the name of his curry house offering the most stimulating dishes of Hindustani cuisine modelling itself as the takeaway and home-delivery restaurant generation before such a concept had sprung into conspicuous presence.
Despite the name, coffee was not offered; instead, the restaurant was a replica of prestige and panache, and adorned with beguiling hookahs and paintings.
Customers were introduced to a taste of the warmth and glory of Indian hospitality. The menu offered fresh meat and vegetable dishes, spiced in perfect degrees and served with perfectly seasoned rice. However, the business was not able to generate profits suitable for Sake and his family and hence, it was closed down and after which, he moved to Brighton.
With the success found in his baths, Sake later on went to publish a book by name of “Shampooing, or, Benefits resulting from the use of the Indian medicated vapour bath” containing numerous anecdotes on treating a wide array of illnesses with herbs alongside faithful testimonials by patients.
Sake Dean is remembered as an innovator and trendsetter who introduced shampoo and Indian culinary cuisines to the European audiences paving the next step for changes in fashion and lifestyle. His legacy lives on in our everyday life.
In 2005, a plaque was put in place nearby the location of his restaurant which commemorates the contributions made by this maverick who inspired latter day immigrants from the subcontinent.