Madras vs Tikka Masala: What’s the Difference?

Written By Ollie Cartwright


Madras and Tikka Masala are two prominent dishes in British Indian cuisine, each offering a distinctive taste. Despite their common presence in curry houses and restaurants across the UK, these two dishes have unique histories and characteristics that set them apart.

Madras and Tikka Masala side by side for comparison with labels

Madras is typically spicier and has a heavier use of chillies, while Tikka Masala is known for its creamy, tomato-based sauce with milder spices. Madras hails from South India, and Tikka Masala is a British invention with Indian influences.

What is Madras?

Madras curry, originating from the South of India, particularly the city of Chennai (formerly known as Madras), is known for its fiery heat.

It’s a heavily spiced dish, often reddish in colour, and incorporates a variety of spices including turmeric, coriander, and cumin. The key component of a Madras curry is the liberal use of hot chillies, which gives it a distinctive heat and depth of flavour.

How Spicy Is Madras?

Madras curry, originating from South India, is known for its considerable heat. It’s typically spicier than standard curry powders, owing to a higher proportion of chillies. The exact spiciness can vary, but it’s generally considered hot.

What is Tikka Masala?

Chicken Tikka Masala, often regarded as a British national dish, has its roots in Indian cuisine but was actually created in the UK.

It consists of marinated pieces of chicken served in a creamy, orange-coloured sauce. The sauce is tomato-based and includes milder spices compared to Madras, often featuring garam masala, garlic, and ginger.

The addition of cream or yoghurt gives it a smooth, rich texture.

How Spicy is Tikka Masala?

Tikka masala, a popular Indian-inspired British dish, is generally mild in spiciness. It focuses more on aromatic spices than heat, making it a great choice for those who prefer milder flavours.

Similarities Between Madras and Tikka Masala

Although they clearly taste completely different, Madras and Tikka Masala do have some similarities:

  • Basic Ingredients: Both dishes use a blend of traditional Indian spices like turmeric, cumin, and coriander.
  • Popularity in the UK: Both are extremely popular in the UK, often featured as staples in Indian restaurants and takeaway menus.
  • Serving Style: Typically, both are served with rice or Indian breads like naan or roti, making them a complete meal.
  • Protein Variations: Although chicken is common, both Madras and Tikka Masala can be prepared with a variety of proteins, including lamb, beef, or paneer for vegetarians.

Differences Between Madras and Tikka Masala

However, just because they have a few similarities doesn’t mean they’re similar at all. In fact, they have a lot of differences (and not just the spice level).

  • Spice Level: Madras is known for its high spice level, often using hot chillies, while Tikka Masala is milder and more palatable for those who prefer less heat.
  • Sauce Base: Madras has a more tomato and vinegar-based sauce, while Tikka Masala features a creamy, tomato-based sauce with cream or yogurt.
  • Origin: Madras curry has roots in South India, reflecting traditional Indian cuisine, whereas Tikka Masala is a British creation with Indian influences.
  • Texture: The texture of Madras is typically more robust and less creamy compared to the smooth and creamy texture of Tikka Masala.
  • Colour: Madras often has a deeper red color due to the heavy use of chillies, whereas Tikka Masala is usually orange or light red, owing to its tomato and cream content.

Madras vs Tikka Masala: Which Wins?

If you were about to place your order with your favourite Indian takeaway but had to pick between these two curries, which would you go for? Let us know by voting below:

Do You Prefer Madras or Tikka Masala

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