Curry is one of the nation’s favorite dishes, whether it is bought at the supermarket, enjoyed at a restaurant or made from scratch at home. English variants on traditional Asian cuisine include cold Coronation Chicken and the hybrid curry dish Tikka Masala, both proof that over the centuries we have taken exotic dishes and made them our very own.
We now have a thriving Asian Cuisine industry in Britain with curry houses in every town and city, jarred sauces and Asian dishes on every supermarket shelf and even cookery classes and restaurant tours ready to be enjoyed. With all this going on how can you resist getting involved in the current curry revolution? You can’t? Well, here is some quick fire facts about curry to get you started on your Asian Cuisine adventure:
- The name “Curry” comes from the traditional Tamil word kari which means “sauce”. The word was Anglicized in the mid-17th century when the East India Company first encountered Asian Cuisine and terms used for it
- There is evidence that curry-making occurred in the Pre-historic era. Spiced meat dishes are thought to have originated in the Indus Valley Civilization with archaeological evidence of mortar and pestle cookery dating as far back as 2600BC. Remnants of spices like mustard, fennel. Cumin and tamarind have also been found
- Curry recipes, ingredients and methods are thought to have been carried east by Buddhist monks in the 7th century, giving way to new variants in Burma, Thailand and China. In the original region of Northern Asia however, emerging empires, political changes and cultural evolution led to many variants and changes in dishes from by the 16th century
- The curry became a popular dish in Britain in the mid-19th century with the first curry recipe in British cuisine appearing as early as 1747 in Hannah Glasses’ The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy
- By the 19th century, Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management showed a more complex blend of spices as a curry recipe, one which called for: coriander, turmeric, cinnamon, cayenne, mustard, ginger, allspice and fenugreek
- The first Curry House in England was opened in 1810 by entrepreneur Sake Dean Mohamed from Bihar, Bengal. It was in London and called Hindustani Coffee House
- The artistically blended spices and herbs that make curry can vary depending on regional origin, cultural tradition, religious practices and even family/extended family preferences; these variations are given specific names that refer to ingredients, spicing and cooking methods
- Curry powder is one of the most popular curry ingredients in England and it has been since first appearing in the 18th century; it is commercially prepared as a “ready-made” mixture of spices to be used as a powdered base for sauces and pastes, getting its yellow color from its heavy reliance on turmeric. Curry powders, pastas and sauces in India are more diverse with anything from five to twenty spices making up their delicate blends
- Wet curries are dishes with significant amounts of sauce or gravy which are made with bases of yoghurt, coconut milk, legume puree or stock
- Dry curries are dishes cooked with very little liquid. The liquid that is used is allowed to evaporate during cooking, leaving the ingredients coated in a pure spice mixture
- The most common ingredients in curry are turmeric, coriander and cumin:
- Turmeric is a herbaceous plant belonging to the ginger family. Native to the tropical Indian Subcontinent it is used fresh or boiled and dried. When ground up it reveals its rich orange-yellow powder which has been used for thousands of years as a dye, a curry ingredient and as medicine
- Coriander is also known as cilantro (Spanish), Chinese parsley and dhania. It is a herb with pale flowers and variable shaped leaves which grow on a soft plant stem, the globular fruits bearing coriander seeds. Native to regions like Southern Europe, North Africa and South-western Asia, coriander leaves and seeds have been used for thousands of years. Some coriander was found in Tutankhamen’s tomb as well as at a Pre-Pottery Neolithic site in Israel
- Cumin is a flowering plant found native to the East Mediterranean and India. The seeds of this parsley family member are used whole or ground up to add flavorings to dishes like curry. Excavations at an Indian site have found cumin seeds that date as far back as the 2nd millennium BC.
- So there you have a few quick fire facts about curry to get you started on your tasty journey. Your next step is to peruse the recipe books, visit the spice shops, join one of the many classes available and get yourself on one of the great London tours centered on curry houses – go forth and seek flavor!