Curry is widely eaten throughout southeast Asia, although it has its roots in Indian cuisine. A curry is any type of spiced dish, usually with meat, fish, or vegetables and a rich sauce. The mixture of spices used to make a it often comes in a ground form known as curry powder, although it is also sold in the form of paste, suspended in oil and tamarind paste or other thickeners. This dish is widely eaten all over the world, thanks to the delicious taste and myriad variations used to prepare it.
The word “curry” probably originates from the Tamil word “kari,” which was used to refer to a relish or sauce for rice. Most Indian curries include turmeric, coriander, cumin, ginger, garlic, and chilies, although others also include spices like cinnamon, cloves, and allspice. While the spices were traditionally toasted and ground for every meal, many cooks use packaged spice mixes today. In Southern Indian cuisine, pungent spices like asafoetida are used, while Northern Indian cuisine favors more mild curries.
In Thailand, curry also plays an important culinary role. Most Thai curries include tamarind paste, lime juice, galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime, garlic, chilies, shrimp paste, and the roots of cilantro, which are spicier than the leaves. Thai curries are often cooked in coconut milk, which makes them a rice and creamy accompaniment to fish, meats, and vegetables. These dishes often rely more on fresh herbs and vegetables and a short cooking time, so that the vegetables in the dish remain textured and crunchy.
In Malaysia and Indonesia, curries tend to be fiery and cooked in coconut milk to temper the strong chili flavor. In addition to being spicy, the dishes are frequently served with hot chili sauce, for diners who prefer their meals even more intense. Typical Malaysian curry includes cumin, coconut, coriander, fennel, red chilies, shrimp paste, turmeric, lemongrass, garlic, onion, salt, and nuts. In Indonesia, curry paste is often made with coconut, soured fish, limes, peanuts, onions, caraway, chilies, nutmeg, cloves, turmeric, ginger, and poppy seeds.
Curry or curry-like dishes are served in many other parts of the world as well. African and Caribbean cuisine, for example, both feature spicy dishes in thick sauces. China and Japan also serve curries, which tend to be more mild than their Indian counterparts. The powder also has a long history in European cuisine, with both France and Britain preparing unique foods with the spice mixture. Prepared powders and pastes from all over the world are readily available at most markets, and are well worth experimenting with. For a simple curry, a cook can use curry paste, coconut milk, and a protein source of his or her choice such as chicken, beef, or tofu. The protein should be seared, then the coconut milk and curry powder added, simmered, and served over steamed rice.