Curry has taken its place next to fish and chips and the traditional Sunday Roast as one of Britain’s favourite foods. What started as a simple sauce and meat dish now has as many varieties as cafes that serve it. Every chef has a trick or special ingredient to make their curry unique.
What is Curry?
How you define the word curry depends on where you live. In India, a curry is merely a sauce or gravy. In the UK, any savoury Indian food is called a curry. The roots of curry can be directly traced back to India. Pakistan broke away from India in 1947, and Bangladesh separated from Pakistan in 1971. Nowadays more Bangladeshi or Pakistani chefs run curry houses than Indian cooks.
When the UK ruled India, any spicy food was loosely referred to as a curry. Indians chefs, however, didn’t lump all their spicy sauces under one category. They named each of their sauces depending on their particular regional variation. The British took these dishes back to England and modified them to better satisfy European tastes.
Even the word curry has a confused history. Some say it came from the Portuguese word “karil.” Another theory is that the word came from “karahi,” the cookware used to create the sauces. A karahi is similar to an Asian wok. Other people claim the term came from “khari,” the name of a yogurt-based spicy sauce.
The History of Curry
When the British ruled India, chefs were taught to fuse their Indian cooking style with the meals the British citizens craved while they were in India. The chefs came up with sauces and jams that appeased the British palate and concealed the routinely poor quality of the game and poultry being offered. Just as they brought their favourite meals to India, they found that they missed the Indian curries when they returned to the UK.
Dean Mahomet was the first man credited with running a British curry house. Mahomet was a servant to Godfrey Evan Baker, an Irish officer. Mahomet journeyed across India with his master. They eventually ended up in County Cork, Ireland, where the servant published a book entitled “The Travels of Dean Mahomet.”
Mahomet moved to London in 1800. He opened his Hindostanee Coffee House, where he served such authentic Indian dishes that a hookah and chilm tobacco was offered with meals. London was receptive to the Indian cuisine and Mahomet’s restaurant became quite popular.
Types of Curry
Curries vary widely from country to country, region to region and chef to chef. Most curries use coriander, cumin, cardamom and turmeric. Not every curry is hot. Some are quite mild. To the chef, the important part is the blending of the spices and herbs. To personalize their curries, chefs might add curry leaves, garlic, lemon grass, cinnamon, garam massala, chilli, ginger, pepper, onions and mustard seeds.
Currently, the reigning heavyweight king of the curries is chicken tikka masala. Tikka meat is marinated and cooked in a tandoor before it is used in a curry. Massala is the name of the curry sauce that accompanies the chicken. The dish usually has a luminescent appearance because the chefs add food colouring for a dramatic effect.
Curry is a perfect example of how the UK takes international cuisine and modifies it to please her citizens. What began as an inexpensive reminder of days-gone-by is now a staple in British cafes.