Most non-vegetarian Indians will be quite familiar with dishes like chicken curry, mutton curry and fish curry, but how many of us known where this word “curry” came from? The word curry is a generic term used in the West, which may refer to a wide range of dishes originating from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia, or other South Asian countries.

Interestingly, the word “Curry” is an anglicized version of the Tamil word “Kari”, which essentially means “Sauce” and was understood to be vegetables with or without meat cooked in a medley of spices, with or without gravy. Kari was first encountered by the British in the 17th century, when the British East Indian Company began trading with Tamil merchants along the Coromandel Coast in South India. Similarly, the word “Curry powder”, which is a unique blend of whole spices like peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon, black and green cardamom, used to flavour curries, comes from the Tamil word “Kari Podi”. Hence the word “Curry” has nothing to do with the North Indian Kadhi (a dish prepared with chick pea flour and yogurt), with which it is often confused, given their slightly similar pronunciation.

Curry, then traveled from India to Burma, Thailand and China through Buddhist monks, who then carried it south wards to countries like Indonesia and the Philippines. With the establishment of the Mughal Empire in the beginning of the 16th century, came a strong Turkish and Persian influence to Indian cooking, along with certain Islamic food practices, like for instance eating halal (a method of slaughter) meat.

Another important influence to Indian food came from the Portuguese, when they opened a trading center in Goa in 1510, who introduced to India the “Chilly Pepper”, which is used very liberally in Goan and Andhra food. In the 19th century, the recipe for curry, traveled to the Caribbean by Indian workers, working in the British sugar industry.

There is a very distinct difference between curries cooked and eaten in North India, versus how curries are cooked and eaten in South India. While curries in North India rely heavily on ingredients like masalas (seasoning powder), garlic, ginger, onions, tomatoes, desi ghee (clarified butter), butter and cream, curries from the South are flavoured with cloves, cumin, turmeric, curry leaves and coconut milk. Curries from Goa; known for their signature tang use a lot of vinegar and wine as seasoning agents. Also, North Indian curries are eaten with unleavened bread such as roti, naan or parantha, curries in South India are eaten with boiled rice.

Not only are curries high on taste, but are also known to have certain health benefits. Studies have proven that ingredients in curry help to prevent medical conditions such as colon cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. Some studies have also shown that reaction of pain receptors to the hot ingredients in curry, aids in the body’s release of Endorphins, which further lead to a feeling of well being and happiness.

So next time you tuck into that curry, you know there’s a lot more to it than just meat, vegetables and spices thrown in and not only is it delicious, but good for you too. Bon Appetite!