In Northern India, cinnamon and cardamom are more likely to be used. In Southern India, ginger, garlic and lemon grass are more likely to be used. Purists say that saffron should be used in a Curry, but this is actually quite rare: turmeric is used instead as is more affordable.
Outside of India, the regional preferences have all been blended together.
Curries spread outside into South East Asia, where they now differ greatly from region to region. The dish came up to China from India, and the Chinese varied it to suit their tastes, just as Westerners have.
Curries are very popular in Japan. The Japanese will have a curry at least once a week. The Japanese taste for curry came via the UK, not directly from India or from China. It was introduced to Japan in the 1870s. The Japanese at the time actually thought it was British food.
Immigrants from South East Asia to the West Indies took along their tastes for Curries.
In the UK, Curry dishes are actually a combination of Bangladeshi and Indian dishes. Many dishes have been modified to suit Western tastes. In Western restaurants, Kormas means a mild child, Madras means hot and Vindaloo means very hot — though Mexican food enthusiasts will still be very disappointed.
Probably the first documented Curry recipe dates from the 400s BC.
A Curry restaurant opened in London in 1809, called the Hindostance Coffee House, but things didn’t pick up till the start of the 1900s. By 1960, there were over 500 Curry restaurants in Britain. By 1970, 1,200. Now (2004), there are over 8,000 in the UK. 90% of Indian restaurants in the UK are owned and managed by Bangladeshis.
Curry wasn’t entirely foreign to Britain — many Medieval spice mixtures and sauces were similar. The British even already had a word called “cury” when they arrived in India, from the French word “cuire”, to cook.
“Cooks with theire newe conceytes,
choppynge, stampynge and gryndynge
Many new curies alle day they ar contryvynge…” (from F.J.Furnell in Manners and Meals in Olden Times, 1868, citing a 15th century piece on cooking.)
The use of the word “curry” here implies a mixture of things. Some speculate such mixtures could have been spice mixtures.
Mrs Beeton listed 14 Curry recipes in her Book of Household Management (October 1861).
Though other European nations were in India — Portugal, Netherlands, France — it was the British who adopted Curry with a passion.
Chicken Tikka Masala was invented in the UK.
Literature & Lore
“Playwrights are like men who have been dining for a month in an Indian restaurant. After eating Curry night after night, they deny the existence of asparagus.”
— Peter Ustinov.
“The best curry powder imported from India is of a dark green color, and not yellow or red. It has among its ingredients, tamarinds, not preserved, as we always get them — but raw in the shell. These tamarinds impart a pleasant acid to the mixture. For want of them, use lemon.”
— Eliza Leslie. New Receipts for Cooking. 1854.
“Westminster Council in London has erected a plaque at 102, George Street, Portman Square (just behind Selfridges) in memory of Sake Dean Mahomed, who established the first Indian restaurant in the UK, the Hindoostane Coffee House, on the site in 1810. Mahomed, who served in the East India Company army before coming to the UK in 1784, was born in — yes, you’ve got it — Patna in 1759. He died in Brighton in 1851. What about a plaque in Patna?” — Roy, Amit. Eye on England column. Calcutta, India. The Telegraph. Saturday, 10 September 2005.
Curry may come from a Tamil word “kari”, meaning sauce, but other origins, including Medieval English, are possibilities.
Curry actually means “sauce” or soup, referring to a dish cooked in such a sauce. Westerners also apply to the word to the combination of spices used, which is probably more accurately termed “Curry powder” to distinguish it from the dish.
The word “Curry” isn’t actually used in India, except, ironically, to refer to the British dishes.