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The Ever Enigmatic Curry: What Exactly is Curry?

Curry can mean so many different things. There is curry powder, curry sauce, and curried meats and vegetables. There are few theories about the origin of the word “curry.” Curry could be an anglicized form of “kari,” which means sauce in Tamil, a language spoken in Sri Lanka and southern India. Or perhaps the word is derived from the curry leaves, an ingredient frequently used in Indian recipes Some think it may come from “kahari,” a wok-like pot used for making curries, or from khari, a savory biscuit. Thus, due to the multiple meanings, 17th century British traders used “curry” as a general term for all of the different dishes.

Curry powder is a western invention. Traditionally, spices would be mixed and blended specifically for each dish rather than relying on a standard blend. Each family had their own recipes. However, due to the lack of local availability and limited knowledge of Indian and Asian spices, curry powder was invented. The spices in a curry powder can vary greatly, as there is no standard blend. Spices like cumin, coriander, turmeric, chili powder, cinnamon, fenugreek, brown and yellow mustard seeds, cloves, and black pepper are all very common, but it varies for specific dishes and regions.

The most popular curry powder and a British favorite is the Madras curry. Madras curry is a the quintessential Anglo-Indian flavor, the British version of curry. The blend was named after the city of Madras, now known as Chennai. However, it will not be found in authentic Indian cuisine. It is not a “sweet curry” but has a mild sweet flavor to it.

Portuguese traders in the 15th century also left their mark on curry, specifically the local Goan cuisine. The Portuguese dish, “carne de vinha d'alhos” (meat marinated with red wine vinegar and garlic) combined with the addition of local Goan spices like cardamom, red chilis, and fenugreek became known as Vindaloo. Vindaloo curry is a tangy, sweet and spicy curry, which has become a staple in Indian cuisine.

There is no correct way to make a curry. The most important thing is to satisfy your own tastes. At Spice For Life we carry both Madras and Vindaloo curries. Check out our recipe for curry HERE to get started.