What exactly is a curry?
Often the go-to takeaway meal or first stop for an evening out with friends, the curry is widely recognised as the nation’s favourite dish. But how much do we know about curry, what is it and where it came from?
At its simplest, curry is a dish of meat, fish, seafood or vegetables enhanced with a blend of aromatic spices in a rich sauce or gravy. Some sauces are drier than others, as they're reduced significantly during cooking, leaving the main component of the dish coated with spice. Conversely, ‘wet’ curries typically have a creamy sauce based on coconut milk, yogurt, or cream, for example. The combination of spices and the degree to which they are incorporated into the finished dish is a measure of the type of flavours one can expect - will it be a cool korma or a volcanic vindaloo? The spices and herbs used in the infinite variety of curries, also reflects the origins of the dish - be it Bangladesh or Burma, Maharashtra or Malaysia.
From kari to curry and on to London
The earliest recorded use of ginger and turmeric goes back as far as 2200BC and was discovered on a cooking pot and in starch grains in human teeth in Farmana, an ancient town west of Delhi. Thus curry is thought to have originated in the Indian subcontinent, but has an equally long history in Southern India and South East Asia. The word ‘curry’ was derived from the Tamil word ‘kari’, essentially a thin spicy sauce served over meat and vegetables. Chillies found their way to India from Mexico and South America, transforming curry to new heights the world over.
The enthusiasm for spices and curry powders in Britain was first brought to us by the British East India Company. Fast forward to 1926 and the arrival of what has come to be known as the ‘Grand Dame of Indian Restaurants’: Veeraswamy. With a ninety-year-old legacy of serving fine Indian cuisine in one of London’s premier districts, Veeraswamy harks back to the days of the Raj with all the majesty that went with them. Moghul Princess included.
Birmingham - the new home of the British curry
By the 1970’s the first Indian balti houses started to spring up in Birmingham. Today, restaurants in the so-called Balti Triangle are famous for their traditional and faithfully authentic balti dishes, which are widely acknowledged to be the best in the country. In 2012, the Birmingham Balti Association launched a bid to secure protected EU status. Should their application be successful, only curries which conform to agreed recipes and standards will be credited as a 'Birmingham Balti'.