Monthly Archives: August 2017

What is Curry?

Maharashtrian Lamb Curry

“I don’t like Indian food because I don’t like curry.” This is a statement I’ve heard all too often and perturbs me each and every time.  Sometimes I will go on to challenge the statement and other times, I don’t bother. It’s like saying I don’t like Italian food because I don’t like pizza, or I don’t like Mexican food because I don’t like salsa. What I’ve also come to surmise is that most people don’t really even understand what curry is, including some famous chefs on TV shows.

Last night, my friend and I were trying to decide what to do for the evening after determining that there were no movies playing of interest to either of us.  Since there was a potential of rain, we decided that we would spend our evening making Beef Rendang, a Malaysian curry that takes several hours to cook after quite a bit of prep time.  Rendang has a blend of Indian and Thai flavors and is deliciously rich.  It was well worth the time and we had fun talking and drinking wine while we cooked together.

On my long, delayed flight to the West coast this morning I began to think about curry and that statement I’ve heard so many times, and decided to demystify the concept for you.  So let’s start off with the most important concepts you need to understand about curry: 

Curry is NOT a spice – Indians and Southeast Asians do NOT use anything called curry powder in their cooking.  This is very much a concept adapted by the British and popularized in the West Indies. 

  • Curry is NOT one universal dish – Curries come in many forms, colors and flavors so to dismiss them all as one thing would be a huge injustice.  The Malaysian rendang we made last night is very different from a Thai green curry or a Maharashtrian curry or a Goan fish curry or an Indonesian curry or Rogan Josh or Vindaloo or Laksa or Kofta curry.  Each of these is made with very different ingredients and each has a flavor all its own. North Indian curries are heavier with their use of cream and butter while South Indian curries tend to be lighter and sometimes use coconut milk. The spices and other ingredients used vary also. 
  • Curry IS a synonym for sauce or gravy.  So a dish with no gravy should NEVER be called a curry. Curried vegetables or curried chicken salad are American in their roots.  No such dishes exist in India so if that’s the flavor you don’t like, I suggest you try real curries from the various countries before deciding you don’t like curry as a whole. 
  • The word “curry” is derived from the Kari leaves that are used in many Indian sauces.  In Hindi they are called Kadhi Putta.  The Western interpretation of the word used an “R” instead.  And soon anything with a gravy was referred to as a curry.  It is very much an English word not used by any of the Indian languages 
  • Indian food is NOT just curry!!! Neither is Thai or Malaysian food. 

Even if this post doesn’t convince you love curries instantaneously, I hope that it will at least open your mind a bit and make you think about exploring the world of curries before dismissing them all because you were served curried chicken salad once and didn’t like the flavor of “curry”.  For the record, I don’t like the flavor of the curry powder spice either.

Please feel free to comment or ask questions below. I’d love to hear about your experiences or thoughts on the subject



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