The Politics Of 'Curry’: A Delicious Blend Of Culture, Marginalisation, And Spices

Curries From Across Asia
Curries From Across

The stubborn insistence on the existence of curries on Indian and Asian menus is not lost on us when we visit ‘white’ countries. From a slur in one country to the national dish of another, it has now become the catch-all for any kind of gravy dish arising from the Indian subcontinent.

But as Indians, we know that every dish we cook can be described by an array of other words, none of which are ‘curry,’ and to say nothing about the other billions of people in the rest of South Asia, from Thai kaeng to Japan’s katsu. From sambar, to korma, to vindaloo, India’s ‘curries’ are an amalgamation of different spices, like chilli, turmeric, coriander, and cumin, in different permutations and combinations depending on the taste, region, and spice level. None of these curries contains the ready-made yellow curry powder that we find in little jars. These spices are masterfully blended with vegetables, pulses and lentils, and sometimes meat. As defined by Chef Floyd Cardoz, a curry is any sauce with spice in it, it doesn’t matter if you have 20 or 30 spices, but it is the way that you treat them.

The origins of the word ‘curry’ are from the Tamil kari, which was then anglicised by the British during the Raj, thereby avoiding having to learn all the different words for our dishes. Though those in the know during the time did differentiate between dishes, they were few and far between, making ‘curry’ commonplace and more palatable for British tastes. So while now Indian and other South Asian food is considered ‘exotic’ and sought after, this has come only after people in white countries made a mockery of our dishes, considering them messy, spicy, and one-note, when this could not be further from the truth. White acknowledgement and approval have finally reached Indian cuisine, but at what cost?

Curry is not a wrong term by any means, many South Indian and Sri Lankan dishes do have the word curry in the name, but these are always paired with traditional ingredients or it refers to something very specific. It is the lumping of all our dishes under the curry umbrella that is a problem.

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India is not the world’s originator of the dish by any means. Curry as a concept has existed since the beginning of time, and almost every country has their own version of a curry. However, thanks to the internet, we’re not restricted to only Indian curry dishes. There are tons of recipes out there to try from Indonesian beef (or buff) rendang, to Malaysian laksa, you can sample them all. But we know that not everyone is a cook, or has time to make these dishes. So in an effort to broaden our palates beyond an Indian curry dish, here’s what the rest of Asia is doing with their curry and places you can sample them right in our very own backyard.

Go here for amazing Thai curries. They are super traditional and authentic, but consider this a warning if you have a low spice tolerance!

If you’re in the mood for something a little closer to home, give Hoppumm’s Sri Lankan fare a shot, from their prawn moilee to the Ceylon mushroom curry, all served up with traditional hoppers and flaky kottu roti.

Probably the most authentic Korean food currently found in Bombay, you get all your K-Drama faves here, from jjajangmyeon (noodles in black bean sauce) to shin ramyun (instant noodles) to tteokbokki (rice cake), and they also have vegetarian versions of all their dishes.

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If you’re in Pune this is the place you should be hitting up for Asian cuisine; especially for their Malaysian laksa and Vietnamese pho. While you’re at it, you might as well try out their amazing molecular cocktails too.

This little-known eatery serves authentic Nepali and Assamese food, from the old favourites, like momos and thukpa (noodle soup), to new discoveries like Khasi Ko Ledo (spicy mutton curry) and Gundruk Ko Jhol (curry with fermented vegetables).

We all know that Izumi’s sushis are a sight to behold. But here’s your chance to look beyond their sushi menu, and delve into a bowl of their Japanese katsu curry. It’s definitely one for the books.

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