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Curry: Flavor Without Borders
Learn how one style of dish came to contain such multitudes with Groupon’s guide to curry.
Great Britain has never been famed for its colorful cooking. Considering the confusion with which 17th-century British traders must have regarded South India’s proliferation of vividly complex, spicy stews, it’s no wonder that they lumped them all under a single term: curry. The term most likely derived from the Tamil word “kari,” or “sauce.” Because the coinage denotes a Western way of interpreting unfamiliar foods, it covers a very broad category of dishes from distinct cultures across the globe, rather than a specific recipe from a given tradition. The most common mix of spices present in Indian curries is known as garam masala—a mix of toasted and ground spices such as coriander, cumin, cardamom, cloves, turmeric, and nutmeg, which is often similar to the yellowish spice blend sold as curry powder. In India, the specific proportions and spices in garam masala vary from family to family and kitchen to kitchen—there is no codified recipe here, either.
Cultures around the world put their own signature on the template of ground spice blends used to flavor dishes that are, usually, served with rice or another sauce-absorbing starch. Jamaican curries are known for their searing heat and unique use of allspice; West African varieties often contrast their own spice with bits of fruit; and the Japanese version tends to be rather mild and sweet in comparison with many of its global cousins, centering on the flavor profile of imported British curry powder. And Thai and other Southeast Asian curries are marked by their use of a paste rather than a powder. Often using a traditional mortar and pestle, Thai cooks will grind dried and toasted spices with such ingredients as hot peppers, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, cilantro, and shrimp paste.