Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Curry - A Global History by Colleen Taylor Sen

I am a curry fan so this was really a book for me. I found it in a museum in connection with an
exhibition about India. The only problem when you read books like this is that you tend to get very hungry!

It is a lovely little book on the history of curry. But, what is curry really? It means a lot of different things for different people. In the book they define it in the following way: "a curry is a spiced meat, fish or vegetable stew served with rice, bread, cornmeal or another starch. The spices may be freshly prepared as a powder or a spice paste or purchased as a ready-made mixture.

A secondary definition of curry is any dish, wet or dry, flavoured with curry powder - a ready-made mixture that generally includes turmeric, cumin seed, coriander seed, chillies and fenugreek (and may or may not include curry leaf, Murraya koenigji, a fragrant leaf widely used in southern Indian cooking). This category encompasses such diverse, hybrid dished as German currywurst, Singapore noodles, Dutch fries with curry ketchup and American curried chicken salad."

The Indian food is mostly known for the use of a lot of spices and other strong flavourings, including garlic, onion and chillies. There has been many explanations to the use of spices, and most of them seem to be mythical. "Hot spices do not induce enough perspiration to cool people down. Nor do they mask the flavour of tainted meat, since those who eat such food would be likely to die, or at the very least become seriously ill."

A lot of theories and one of the latest is "that they contain powerful antibiotic chemicals that kill or suppress the bacteria and fungi that spoil foods. The antibiotic effects are even stronger when combined with onions and garlic." It seems there are scientific evidence to support this last theory. However that is, today, what would we do without spices in our food?

The book continue to tell on how it spread, really, all over the world. Each part of the world has their own local version, adapted with local spices. One can easily say that this is the most famous dish in the world. Or as Robin Cooks, a former foreign secretary in Britain, claimed in 2001: "Chicken tikka masala is a true British national dish, not only because it is the most popular but because it is a perfect illustration of the way Britain absorbs and adapts external influences." !

Personally, I love Indian food. We have a nice Indian restaurant, close to us, which we visit regularly. After all the descriptions in the book on the curry from different region, I will read the menu in another way. The end of the book contains some recipes from different parts of the world. I just have to go through them and try out!


  1. Curried foods are very much a part of the cuisine of the Philippines which can be seen as a mixture of Malay, Chinese and Spanish.

  2. Just love curries! Had a thai curry yesterday which was superb.