Word of the Month: Curry

David Zapatka

Having spent the past week in Myanmar and India eating fabulous cuisine off the cruise ship, curry dishes are fresh on my mind. I’ve long loved Indian cuisine and all those many curry flavors. I’m impressed by how many different types of curry and varying spices there are. What I’ve learned is curry is popular all across Asia. While on a tour yesterday, our guide pointed out a curry tree. The leaves smelled like curry, and this month’s word appeared in my head.

Curry – noun cur·ry | \ ˈkər-ē, ˈkə-rē\ variants: or less commonly ‘currie,’ plural ‘curries.’ A food, dish or sauce in Indian cuisine seasoned with a mixture of pungent spices. Also a food or dish seasoned with curry powder. (There are other definitions, but with limited space, this column will focus only on this most common one.)

History and etymology – Curry was adopted and anglicized from the Tamil word kari, meaning ‘sauce’ or ‘relish for rice.’ It is usually understood to mean vegetables or meat cooked with spices with or without a gravy used first in English in 1747 when a curry recipe was published by Hannah Glasse.

Curry is a variety of dishes originating in the Indian subcontinent that use a complex combination of spices or herbs, usually including ground turmeric, cumin, coriander, ginger and fresh or dried chilies. Curry is generally prepared in a sauce. Curry dishes prepared in the southern states of India, where the word originated, may be spiced with leaves from the curry tree. The curry tree (Murraya koenigii) also known as sweet neem or kadi patta or curry vepila, is a tropical to sub-tropical tree in the family Rutaceae – the rue family, which includes rue, citrus and satinwood – and which is native to India.

Example of “curry” used in a sentence: “Britain is no longer a totally white place where people ride horses, wear long frocks and drink tea. The national dish is no longer fish and chips; it’s curry.” – Marianne Jean-Baptiste. “I was bullied by a freshman named Jeanine. She was black and supremely racist. Jeanine used to say, ‘Brownie, go back to your country,’ or ‘Do you smell curry coming?’” – Priyanka Chopra.

Dishes called “curry” may contain fish, meat, poultry or shellfish, either alone or in combination with vegetables. Additionally, many curry dishes are entirely vegetarian, eaten especially among those who hold ethical or religious proscriptions against eating meat or seafood.

Curries may be either “dry” or “wet.” Dry curries are cooked with very little 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, coconut milk, dairy cream, legume purée, sautéed crushed onion, tomato purée or yogurt.

What love of curry would you like to share with our readers? Please submit your experiences, any thoughts on this month’s column or any word you may like to share along with your insights and comments to [email protected].