What is Curry?

Curry is a form of sauce, representing a common menu item at Indian restaurants. It has also made its way into the culinary traditions of many other countries, including Japan, Thailand, the Caribbean, South Africa, and more. Curry-based dishes come in many forms, though they generally involve pouring a curry sauce over a dish of rice, vegetables, and some form of protein.

Some people mistakenly think of curry as a spice. This myth is perpetuated by the fact that there is in fact a curry tree, the leaves of which are sometimes used in curry. In actuality, curry comes in the form of numerous blends of spices. Though there is no official recipe for curry, curry sauces will generally feature turmeric, which gives the blend its distinctive yellow color. This may be mixed with coconut, coconut milk, coriander, chili powder, pepper, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, cardamom, ginger, tamarind, and nutmeg.

In Thai and Indian restaurants, it is common to see curry come in three general forms: red, yellow, and green. Red curry is made with red chiles, green curry is made with green chiles, and yellow is mostly turmeric and cumin.

The History of Curry
Everybody recognizes curry as a classic Indian culinary innovation. However, if you were to go into a restaurant in India and ask for curry, your waiter may very well not know what you’re talking about. Indeed, while the curry sauce we know and love traces its origins back to India, the origins of curry is somewhat complicated.

The word “curry” itself is an English term, apparently derived from the Tamil word kari, which translates to “sauce”. It would seem that early English visitors to India encountered a sauce made from a blend of spices, then brought it back to their home country under an adapted name. People thereafter came to know the sauce and the dishes made from it as curry, which was appearing in English cookbooks as early as 1300 AD.

After curry rose in popularity among the English, merchants and travelers began to spread the phenomenon around to other parts of the world. It made its way to Japan in the late 1800’s, when the country finally opened its doors to the outside world. The Japanese adopted the dish as a form of easy, great tasting food for their military forces. In this way it spread throughout the country, and throughout the rest of east Asia.