What Makes a Curry a Curry?

Somewhere along the line, the word “curry” came to be applied to a vast number of South and Southeast Asian foods. One need only compare the Thai green curry with an Indian chicken korma to discover how different the dishes are that have received the designation ‘curry.’ As it turns out, food historians trace the origination of the dish to the Indian subcontinent, where it is believed British explorers borrowed the Indian word kari meaning sauce and applied it to all of the spicy, saucy dishes the Indians were making at the time. Through British colonization as well as trade with the Far East, the curry cooking tradition began to spread across the southeast hemisphere. Today, many countries produce dishes that are called curries that bear a resemblance to the original Indian dishes such as korma and paneer curry.

Ancient curries
Turmeric and ginger residue has been identified on ancient pots dating back to the Ancient Indus civilization 4,500 years ago. The presence of such spices that early in the development of the Indian subcontinent suggests that curry is in fact one of the oldest continually prepared dishes on the planet, having its origins with the Indus people before spreading to such diverse locations as Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia.

The curry style
The unifying factor in all international curries is the presence of a sauce flavored by a spice mixture. In Malaysia, the tradition is carried out in the curry laksa which is a noodle soup curry variety. Thai curries, such as red curry, green curry and massaman curry are thicker and feature sweet coconut milk as their base. By the time the curry tradition made its way to Britain, it had developed a bit away from its Indian roots. Chicken tikka masala is a British curry that features a much larger meat-to-sauce ratio than its Asian cousins.

Ultimately, it seems as though curry is more properly thought of as a culinary tradition or style than a particular dish. Making a curry simply involves the preparation of a meat or vegetable dish in a heavily spiced sauce. The exact contents of this sauce has various regional differences as the curry style of cooking spread throughout the world. Countries as far removed as Japan, Trinidad & Tobago and South Africa each have a curry tradition of their very own. As a staple of international cuisine, the importance of the curry cannot be overstated. Learn more about the world’s flavors by taking an online spice class.

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