Idiot’s Guide: Curries around the world
Arguably, there is only a handful of good things that the British did for India, but pretty high up on that list of good deeds is the popularization of curry. Even the word “curry” is a British derivation of the Tamil word “kari” which is a term that was used to describe any dish spiced with pepper in the 17th century. The British helped spread a love for Indian curry around the world but also made most people forget that curry isn’t just Chicken Tikka Masala, but actually encompasses dishes from other Asian and Caribbean countries. Here are some of the defining factors of the different types of curries one can find around the world:
India: Considered the birthplace of curry, Indian curries usually contain more spices and are more varied than any others. Just as different languages are spoke in different regions in India, there are regional variations of curry. Gujarati curries or “shaaks” use more sugar and salt to produce a dish that is simultaneously spicy, salty, and sweet. Cooks in Kerala are heavy-handed with coconut (milk, oil, and grated). Punjabi curries generally contain “paneer” (an Indian cottage cheese) mixed in gravy of rich spices and cream. Almost all Indian restaurants in the West serve Punjabi curries like Chicken Tikka Masala, Palak Paneer, and Malai Kofta. Most Indian cooking begins with a base of onions, garlic, and ginger to which a unique blend of spices is added. Although many people now use all-purpose curry powder, the blend of spices should be unique to each dish and most Indian cooks grind and mix their own spices for each individual dish. The main spices in Indian cooking are coriander, cumin, fennel, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, turmeric, fenugreek, mustard seeds, and black and red pepper.
China: Chinese curries are lesser known and are heavily influenced by their Malaysian counterparts. The curries are usually thin and yellow and are commonly eaten with hot chili oil or soy sauce for added flavor. Chinese curry sauce is usually sold in a powder form and used to lend flavor to seafood, vegetables and noodle dishes. The main spices in Chinese curries are cardamom, cayenne pepper, coriander, cumin, red chilies, turmeric, yellow mustard seeds, and white pepper.
Thailand: The different types of Thai curries are usually easy to distinguish from each other since they are characterized by their colors. Green curry derives its color from green chilies and basil, red curry from red chilies, and yellow curry from turmeric. Massaman curry is made from roasted peanuts and Panang curry is a milder, creamier beef curry. The base of Thai curry is usually paste made of hot chilies, lemongrass, blue ginger root, shrimp paste, and garlic. Thai curries tend to share its watery consistency with Chinese curriers; however, this soup like consistency is due to a healthy amount of coconut milk. The main spices in Thai cooking are coriander, cumin, tamarind, green and red chilies, and black pepper.
Indonesia: Curries in Indonesia are usually referred to as “kari” or “guali” and also vary from region to region like Indian curries. They contain a variety of seafoods and meats, peanuts, coconut milk or meat, and soy sauce. Rendang is one of the most popular curries in Indonesia and is made my simmering Water Buffalo meat in coconut milk. The curry paste in Indonesia differs from curry pastes in India and Thailand since it is a tomato base combined with shallots, garlic, dried shrimp, assam paste (fresh spices with a hint of tamarind), chili, sugar and salt. The main spices in Indonesian curries are Bay leaves, curry leaves, coriander, cumin, chili peppers, turmeric, Kaffir lime leaves, and white pepper.
Japan: Although curry has become a staple of Japanese cuisine, curry was brought to the area by the British. Japanese curry usually comes in three forms: “karē raisu” or curry rice, “karē udon” or curry noodles, and “karē-pan” or curry bread. Curry rice is the most popular form of curry and is usually comprised of a curry sauce made of curry powder, flour, and oil that is added to stewed meat and vegetables and then served over rice. The main spices in Japanese curries are cardamom, coriander, cumin, blue ginger, garlic, ginger, green and red chilies, lemongrass, and turmeric.
Caribbean: When one thinks of the islands of Jamaica, Trinidad, or Martinique, one doesn’t usually think of Indian-style curries. When large populations of Indians settled in these island nations they brought their cuisine with them. The curries of the Caribbean use the same basic blend of spices as those of Indian curries but often use spices native to the islands, including allspice, anise, thyme, and cloves. Trinidadians prefer milder curries and therefore forgo the chili peppers and add a dash of hot sauce for some added heat. Jamaica’s specialty, on the other hand, is Spicy Hot Curry Goat prepared with peppercorns, Scotch bonnet peppers, allspice, annatto oil, cilantro, vinegar, and hot mustard.
Cover photo source.