The word ‘curry’ in a gastronomic sense is thought to derive from the Tamil ‘karil’, which was a sauce served with rice. There are 60 different ingredients in a typical curry, which vary according to region, tradition and religion. The most common curries contain the same typical spices – such as garam masala, cumin, tumeric and other major and key spices. You will also see herbs served too such as coriander. This is very typical in no end of cases when it comes to this kind and type of cuisine and you can expect to see this in curry houses right across all areas of the UK.
Curries can be very healthy and some spices could even have medicinal properties. It’s believed that the yellow spice Turmeric, as well as adding flavour, can also be a sure way of being able to offer up some vast health benefits. The same too can also be said of some of the other various spices that are also used too. In fact, one of the most popular curries in the UK is chicken tikka masala! Some of the earliest curries in the UK included a rabbit curry with an Indian pickle. There is so much you can learn about this amazing and incredible type of food.
Very popular in the UK still to this day
Curry is as popular today in the UK as ever. For many, a trip to a local British Indian restaurant is still a regular treat. However, more of us are now cooking curry at home. Not just the old favourites from our local British Indian restaurant. But something we may have experienced on our travels, perhaps to Southeast Asia or the Caribbean. Curry is an important part of the cuisines of several regions around the world. It links the histories of many countries. It tells the story of early travel around the globe and of the many important trade routes. But surprisingly curry is a term not generally used in India, despite its common use worldwide. But mainly in parts with past colonial connections. And a few without.
How it travelled the world
Whenever the British moved from India to other posts or positions in distant colonies, they took their curries with them. And they took them to Britain when they returned home, often with Indian cooks who knew how to make them.
Labourers from India also accompanied the British all around the world. And when Indians travel, they take their food culture with them. Above all they tried to cook the dishes they knew from home, substituting their Indian ingredients for local ones. And so their much-loved recipes evolved. Particularly when those workers married into the local families of their new home. They created a sort of Indian fusion cooking of their respective cuisines. Many of these dishes are still cooked today, in South Africa, Trinidad, Malaysia, the list goes on. Overall, this is a type of food with a great variety of variants in terms of its tastes and scents that go into the cooking.
How it has been served in the UK
Many of the dishes served in British Indian restaurants are based on the Anglo-Indian dishes of the 19th Century. Indian recipes were adopted by the British, using the ingredients, techniques and garnishes from all over the Indian Subcontinent. Many were adapted into a repertoire of dishes, some based on recipes from back home. Most dishes are created using a standard base sauce. Other spices and ingredients are added to create specific sauces. This resulted in favourites such as madras, vindaloo, jalfrezi, dopiaza, korma, tikka masala etc. Pre-cooked meat and vegetables are added to the sauce according to each customer’s requirements. To suit British expectations, food is served in courses, often starting with papadams and pickles. A dessert often follows after the main curry dishes. In India everything would usually be served at the same time.
Indian spices in the cooking of other countries resulted in the creation of recipes for curry powders and spice blends. Some of which also incorporate non-Indian spices and herbs. Many of these blends retain some resemblance to Indian aromas and flavours. But with subtle twists reflecting their new origin. It is these blends we tend to refer to as Curry Blends (and Curry Powders). However, some bear no resemblance to Indian cooking. Many are referred to as BBQ blends, meat rubs and international seasonings. It’s always fascinating to experiment with spices. The discovery that changing the proportions of the different spices in a blend can result in something quite different.
Ways you can add curry powder to your diet
Because curry powder is a blend of spices, it can be used to flavor numerous dishes. Curry powder has a unique, warm flavor that can take on both sweet and savory notes depending on the exact blend of spices used by the manufacturer. Remember that there is no one set curry powder recipe and that the spices used may vary. Some versions can be spicy from the use of hot peppers, while others are mild. Once you find a curry powder that pleases your taste buds, try adding it to dishes like marinades, potato salads, roasts, stews, and soups. In fact, this versatile spice blend can be used to season anything from vegetables to eggs, so don’t be afraid to experiment. Keep in mind that because curry powder usually contains turmeric, it will give a golden hue to your recipes.
Where it all came from historically
The UK now celebrates National Curry Week every October. Although curry is an Indian dish modified for British tastes, it’s so popular that it contributes more than £5bn to the British economy. Hence it was hardly surprising when in 2001, Britain’s foreign secretary Robin Cook referred to Chicken Tikka Masala as a “true British national dish”. If Britain taught India how to play cricket, India perhaps returned the favour by teaching the British how to enjoy a hot Indian curry.
By the 18th century, East India Company men (popularly called ‘nabobs’, an English corruption of the Indian word ‘nawab’ meaning governors or viceroys) returning home wanted to recreate a slice of their time spent in India. Those who couldn’t afford to bring back their Indian cooks satisfied their appetite at coffee houses. As early as 1733, curry was served in the Norris Street Coffee House in Haymarket. By 1784, curry and rice had become specialties in some popular restaurants in the area around London’s Piccadilly.
Hindoostanee Coffee House
The first purely Indian restaurant was the Hindoostanee Coffee House which opened in 1810 at 34 George Street near Portman Square, Mayfair. The owner of the restaurant, Sake Dean Mahomed was a fascinating character. Born in 1759 in present-day Patna, then part of the Bengal Presidency, Mahomed served in the army of the East India Company as a trainee surgeon. He later travelled to Britain with ‘his best friend’ Captain Godfrey Evan Baker and even married an Irishwoman. With his coffee house, Mohamed tried to provide both authentic ambience and Indian cuisine “at the highest perfection”. Guests could sit in custom-made bamboo-cane chairs surrounded by paintings of Indian scenes and enjoy dishes “allowed by the greatest epicures to be unequalled to any curries ever made in England”. There was also a separate smoking room for hookahs.
In India there is no such thing as one type of food culture. Each of the regions uses different ingredients and cooking methods to create their own Indian cuisine. The Northern regions come the closest to what we consider Indian cuisine. Southern cuisine is usually hotter and less creamy than that of the North. Thickness, texture and the amount of rice within the dishes are features which can differ between regions as well.