A curry is a dish with a sauce seasoned with spices, mainly associated with South Asian cuisine.[1][2] In southern India, leaves from the curry tree may be included.[3][4][5]

Indian curries
Place of originIndian subcontinent
Region or stateWorldwide
Main ingredientsMeat or vegetables, oil, Spices

There are many varieties of curry. In traditional cuisines, the selection of spices for each dish is a matter of national or regional cultural tradition, religious practice, and preference of the chef. Such dishes have names that refer to their ingredients, spicing, and cooking methods.[6] Outside the Indian subcontinent, a curry is a dish from Southeast Asia which uses coconut milk or spice pastes, commonly eaten over rice.[7] Curries may contain fish, meat, poultry, or shellfish, either alone or in combination with vegetables. Others are vegetarian. Dry curries are cooked using small amounts of liquid, which is allowed to evaporate, leaving the other ingredients coated with the spice mixture. Wet curries contain significant amounts of sauce or gravy based on broth, coconut cream or coconut milk, dairy cream or yogurt, or legume purée, sautéed crushed onion, or tomato purée.

Curry powder, a commercially prepared mixture of spices marketed in the West, was first exported to Britain in the 18th century when Indian merchants sold a concoction of spices, similar to garam masala, to the British colonial government and army returning to Britain.


Hannah Glasse's recipe for curry, first published in her 1747 book The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy. It is the first known anglicised form of kaṟi. (The recipe uses the symbol "ſ" for the letter "s").

Curry is an anglicised form of the Tamil: கறி kaṟi meaning 'sauce' or 'relish for rice' that uses the leaves of the curry tree (Murraya koenigii).[8][9] The word kari is also used in other Dravidian languages, namely in Malayalam, Kannada and Kodava with the meaning of "vegetables (or meat) of any kind (raw or boiled), curry".[10] Kaṟi is described in a mid-17th century Portuguese cookbook by members of the British East India Company,[11] who were trading with Tamil merchants along the Coromandel Coast of southeast India,[12] becoming known as a "spice blend ... called kari podi or curry powder".[12] The first appearance in its anglicised form (spelled currey) was in Hannah Glasse's 1747 book The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy.[9][11]

The word cury in the 1390s English cookbook, The Forme of Cury,[11] is unrelated, coming from the Middle French word cuire, meaning 'to cook'.[13]


Archaeological evidence dating to 2600 BCE from Mohenjo-daro suggests the use of mortar and pestle to pound spices including mustard, fennel, cumin, and tamarind pods with which they flavoured food.[14] Black pepper is native to the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia and has been known to Indian cooking since at least 2000 BCE.[15]

The original curry pre-dates Europeans' presence in India by about 4,000 years. The three basic ingredients of the spicy stew were ginger, garlic and turmeric, and, using a method called "starch grain analysis", archaeologists at the University of Washington at Vancouver were able to identify the residue of these ancient spices in both skeletons and pottery shards from excavations in India. Examining the human teeth and the residue from the cooking pots, signs of turmeric and ginger were evident.[16][17]

The establishment of the Mughal Empire, in the early 15th century, also influenced some curries, especially in the north. Another influence was the establishment of the Portuguese trading centre in Goa in 1510, resulting in the introduction of chili pepper, tomatoes and potatoes to India from the Americas, as a byproduct of the Columbian Exchange.[18]

The British lumped all sauce-based dishes under the generic name 'curry'.[6][19] It was introduced to English cuisine from Anglo-Indian cooking in the 17th century, as spicy sauces were added to plain boiled and cooked meats.[20] Curry was first served in coffee houses in Britain from 1809, and has been increasingly popular in Great Britain, with major jumps in the 1940s and the 1970s.[21] During the 19th century, curry was carried to the Caribbean by Indian indentured workers in the British sugar industry. Since the mid-20th century, curries of many national styles have become popular far from their origins, and increasingly become part of international fusion cuisine.[citation needed]


South AsiaEdit

Rajma-Chawal, curried red kidney beans with steamed rice, from India

India is the home of curry, and many Indian dishes are curry-based, prepared by adding different types of vegetables, lentils, or meats. The content of the curry and style of preparation vary by region. Most curries are water-based, with occasional use of dairy and coconut milk. Curry dishes are usually thick and spicy and are eaten along with steamed rice and a variety of Indian breads. The popular Rogan josh, for example, from Kashmiri cuisine, is a wet curry of lamb with a red gravy coloured by Kashmiri chillies and an extract of the red flowers of the cockscomb plant (mawal).[22] Goshtaba (large lamb meatballs cooked in yoghurt gravy) is another curry dish from the Wazwan tradition occasionally found in Western restaurants.[23]

Bengali gourd curry

Curries in Bengali cuisine include seafood and fresh fish. Mustard seeds and mustard oil are added to many recipes, as are poppy seeds. Emigrants from the Sylhet district of Bangladesh founded the curry house industry in Britain, while in Sylhet some restaurants run by expatriates specialise in British-style Indian food.[24]

Other regionsEdit

Curry spread to other regions of Asia. Although not an integral part of Chinese cuisine, curry powder is added to some dishes in southern part of China. The curry powder sold in Chinese grocery stores is similar to Madras curry powder but with addition of star anise and cinnamon.[25] The former Portuguese colony of Macau has its own culinary traditions and curry dishes, including Galinha à portuguesa and curry crab. Portuguese sauce is a sauce flavoured with curry and thickened with coconut milk.[26]

Japanese style Karē-Raisu (Curry rice)

Japanese curry is usually eaten as karē raisu — curry, rice, and often pickled vegetables, served on the same plate and eaten with a spoon, a common lunchtime canteen dish. It is less spicy and seasoned than Indian and Southeast Asian curries, being more of a thick stew than a curry. British people brought curry from the Indian colony back to Britain[27] and introduced it to Japan during the Meiji period (1868 to 1912), after Japan ended its policy of national self-isolation (sakoku), and curry in Japan was categorised as a Western dish.[28] Its spread across the country is attributed to its use in the Japanese Army and Navy which adopted it extensively as convenient field and naval canteen cooking, allowing even conscripts from the remotest countryside to experience the dish. The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force traditionally have curry every Friday for lunch and many ships have their own recipes.[29] The standard Japanese curry contains onions, carrots, potatoes, and sometimes celery, and a meat that is cooked in a large pot. Sometimes grated apples or honey are added for additional sweetness and other vegetables are sometimes used instead.[30]

Curry was popularized in Korean cuisine when Ottogi entered the Korean food industry with a curry powder in 1969.[31][32] Korean curry, usually served with rice, is characterized by the golden yellow colour of turmeric. Curry tteokbokki is made of tteok (rice cakes), eomuk (fish cakes), eggs, vegetables, and curry. Curry can be added to Korean dishes such as bokkeumbap (fried rice), sundubujjigae (silken tofu stew), fried chicken, vegetable stir-fries, and salads.

Malaysian cuisine may have initially incorporated curries via the Indian population, but it has become a staple among the Malay and Chinese populations there. Malaysian curries typically use turmeric-rich curry powders, coconut milk, shallots, ginger, belacan (shrimp paste), chili peppers, and garlic. Tamarind is also often used. Rendang is drier and contains mostly meat and more coconut milk than a conventional Malaysian curry; it was mentioned in Malay literature in the 1550s by Hikayat Amir Hamzah.[33]

In the Philippines, two kinds of curry traditions are seen corresponding with the cultural divide between the Hispanicised north and Indianised/Islamised south. In the northern areas, a linear range of new curry recipes could be seen. The most common is a variant of the native ginataang manok (chicken is cooked in coconut milk) dish with the addition of curry powder, known as the "Filipino chicken curry". This is the usual curry dish that northern Filipinos are familiar with. Similarly, other northern Filipino dishes that can be considered "curries" are usually ginataan (cooked with coconut milk) variants of other native meat or seafood dishes such as adobo, kaldereta, and mechado, that simply add curry powder or non-native Indian spices.[34]

Thai phanaeng with pork

In Thai cuisine, curries are called kaeng, and usually consist of meat, fish or vegetables in a sauce based on a paste made from chilies, onions or shallots, garlic, and shrimp paste.[35] Additional spices and herbs define the type of curry. Local ingredients, such as chili peppers, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, galangal are used and, in central and southern Thai cuisine, coconut milk. Northern and northeastern Thai curries generally do not contain coconut milk. Due to the use of sugar and coconut milk, Thai curries tend to be sweeter than Indian curries. In the West, some of the Thai curries are described by colour; red curries use red chilies while green curries use green chilies. Yellow curry—called kaeng kari (by various spellings) in Thai, of which a literal translation could be "curry soup"—is more similar to Indian curries, with the use of turmeric, cumin, and other dried spices. A few stir-fried Thai dishes also use an Indian style curry powder (Thai: phong kari).

Curry spread to South Africa with the migration of people from the Indian subcontinent to the region in the colonial era. African curries, Cape Malay curries and Natal curries include the traditional Natal curry, the Durban curry, bunny chow, and roti rolls. South African curries appear to have been founded in both KwaZulu-Natal) and the Western Cape, while other curries developed across the country over the late 20th century and early 21st century to include ekasi, coloured, and Afrikaner curries.[36] Durban has the largest single population of Indians outside of India.[37] Bunny chow or a "set", a South African standard, consists of either lamb, chicken or bean curry poured into a tunnelled-out loaf of bread to be eaten with one's fingers.[36][37]

United KingdomEdit

Curry is very popular in the United Kingdom, with a curry house in nearly every town.[38][39] Such is the popularity of curry in the United Kingdom, it has frequently been called its "adopted national dish".[40] It was estimated that in 2016 there were 12,000 curry houses, employing 100,000 people and with annual combined sales of approximately £4.2 billion.[41]

The food offered is Indian food cooked to British taste, but with increasing demand for authentic Indian styles. As of 2015, curry houses accounted for a fifth of the restaurant business in the U.K. but, being historically a low wage sector, they were plagued by a shortage of labour. Established Indian immigrants from South Asia were moving on to other occupations; there were difficulties in training Europeans to cook curry; and immigration restrictions, which require payment of a high wage to skilled immigrants, had crimped the supply of new cooks.[42]

The first curry recipe in Britain was published in The Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy by Hannah Glasse in 1747.[43] The first edition of her book used only black pepper and coriander seeds for seasoning of "currey". By the fourth edition of the book, other ingredients such as turmeric and ginger were called for. The use of hot spices was not mentioned, which reflected the limited use of chili in India — chili plants had only been introduced into India around the late 16th century and at that time were only popular in southern India.

Many curry recipes appeared in 19th century cookbooks such as those of Charles Elmé Francatelli and Mrs Beeton. In Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, a recipe for curry powder contains coriander, turmeric, cinnamon, cayenne, mustard, ginger, allspice and fenugreek; although she notes that it is more economical to purchase the powder at "any respectable shop".[44] Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, curry grew increasingly popular in Britain owing to the large number of British civil servants and military personnel associated with the British Raj. Following World War II, curry became even more popular in Britain owing to the large number of immigrants from South Asia. Curry has become an integral part of British cuisine, so much so that, since the late 1990s, chicken tikka masala has been referred to as "a true British national dish".[45]

Curry houseEdit

In 1810, the entrepreneur Sake Dean Mahomed, from the Bengal Presidency, opened the first Indian curry house in England: the Hindoostanee Coffee House in London.[46] (Curry was served prior to this in some London Coffee Houses.)[47]

The first modern "upscale" Indian restaurant in Britain is thought to have been The Shafi in 1915,[48] followed by Veeraswamy in London's Regent Street, founded in 1926;[49] the latter is still standing and is the oldest surviving Indian restaurant in Britain.[50][51]

Bengalis in the UK settled in big cities with industrial employment. In London, they settled in the East End, which for centuries has been the first port of call for many immigrants working in the docks and shipping from east Bengal. Their regular stopover paved the way for food and curry outlets to be opened up catering for an all-male workforce as family migration and settlement took place some decades later. Brick Lane in the East London Borough of Tower Hamlets is famous for its many curry houses.

Until the early 1970s, more than three-quarters of Indian restaurants in Britain were identified as being owned and run by people of Bengali origin. Most were run by migrants from East Pakistan, which became Bangladesh in 1971. Bangladeshi restaurateurs overwhelmingly come from the northeastern division of Sylhet. Until 1998, as many as 85% of curry restaurants in the UK were British Bangladeshi restaurants,[52] but in 2003 this figure declined to just over 65%.[53] The dominance of Bangladeshi restaurants is generally declining in some parts of London and the further north one travels. In Glasgow, there are more restaurants of Punjabi origin than any other.[54]

In the early 2010s the popularity of the curry house saw a decline. This has been attributed to the sale of this style of food in generic restaurants, increased home cooking of this style of food with easy supermarket availability of ingredients, and immigration restrictions brought in from 2008 making the availability of low-wage chefs and other staff difficult.[55][56]

Regardless of the ethnic origin of a restaurant's ownership, the menu is influenced by the wider South Asian cuisine, and sometimes cuisines from further afield, such as Persian dishes.[57]

Better quality restaurants make up new sauces on a daily basis, using fresh ingredients wherever possible and grinding their own spices. More modest establishments may resort to frozen or dried ingredients and pre-packaged spice mixtures.[58]

British curry varietiesEdit

Restaurants in Great Britain use Indian terms to identify popular dishes. Although the names derive from traditional Indian dishes, the recipes have often been adapted to suit western tastes. Representative names include:

  • Balti – a style of curry thought to have been developed in Birmingham, England[59] which have spread to other western countries and are traditionally cooked and served in the same pot, typically made of cast iron, called karahi or balty.[60]
  • Bhuna – medium, thick sauce, some vegetables (bhunna in Urdu means "to be fried").[61]
  • Biryani – spiced rice and meat cooked together and usually served with vegetable curry sauce.[62]
  • Dhansak – in the curry house, it may be made with either lamb or chicken and frequently contains pineapple.[63] The name derives from a Parsi dish of mutton cooked with lentils (dal) and vegetables.
  • Dopiaza – medium curry (the word means "double onion", referring to the boiled and fried onions used as its primary ingredient).[64]
  • Jalfrezi – onion, green chili and a thick sauce.[65]
  • Kofta – dishes containing meatballs (most frequently lamb or beef), or vegetable meat-substitutes (most often ground nuts).[66]
  • Korma – mild, yellow in colour, with almond and coconut powder.[67]
  • Madras curry – "the standard hot, slightly sour curry at the Indian restaurant."[68]
  • Pasanda – a mild curry sauce made with cream, coconut milk, and almonds or cashews, served with lamb, chicken, or king prawns. The name was derived from a Mughlai dish of lamb strips beaten to make them tender.[69]
  • Pathia – a hot curry, generally similar to a "Madras" with the addition of lemon juice and tomato purée.[70]
  • Phaal – "the hottest curry the restaurants can make. There is nothing like it in India – it is pure invention."[71]
  • Roghan josh – a medium-spicy curry, usually of lamb/beef with a deep red sauce containing tomatoes and paprika, from a Kashmiri dish of the same name.[72]
  • Sambar – medium-heat, sour curry made with lentils and tamarind.[73]
  • Tandoori, Tikka – the tandoor, a cylindrical clay oven, was introduced into Britain in the 1960s. Tandoori chicken and chicken tikka, both cooked in the tandoor, became popular.[74]
  • Vindaloo – generally regarded as the classic "hot" restaurant curry.[68]

Curry powderEdit

"Curry powder", as available in certain western markets, is a commercial spice blend, and first sold by Indian merchants to European colonial traders. This resulted in the export of a derived version of Indian concoction of spices.[75] and commercially available from the late 18th century,[76][77] with brands such as Crosse & Blackwell and Sharwood's persisting to the present.[78] British traders introduced the powder to Meiji Japan, in the mid-19th century, where it became known as Japanese curry.[79]

See alsoEdit



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Further readingEdit