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How did the word Curry evolve or originate?

Cury, Currey, and Curry are English words used in discussing the origins of Curry, the Indian dish

Cury is an old English word used to describe English Cuisine, it has nothing to do with Indian Curries. Currey is pre-cursor to Curry used to describe Indian curries

Some food historians assert that Curry is derived from Tamil word Kari (a spice tree). The problem is that many of the Curries do not use Kari.

I believe that Currey evolved independently in Europe to describe Indian Cuisine as opposed to English Cuisine (Cury). The first documented recipe for Currey was published in ‘Art of Cookery’ by Hannah Glasse, 1747. This recipe is reflective of a typical Indian Curry.


What is Old English word Cury?

200 cooks and several philosophers were summoned by King Richard II to produce the first English cookery book ‘The Forme of Cury’ in 1390. The book contained 196 recipes. None of these recipes have any thing in common with Indian curries. ‘Cury’ was the Old English word meaning cuisine based on French ‘cuire’ meaning: to cook, boil, or grill.. After the cookery book, Cury became a popular part of English vocabulary. The term Cury became associated with stew.


What about Jewish Kari stew?

Jewish Spice Merchants from Venice arrived in Kerala before the Syrian Christians. The Jewish merchants were settled before the arrival of either British or Portuguese. After World War II most of the Jews departed for Israel. Perhaps this explains why this aspect is hardly mentioned on the subject. The Jews fused their own cuisine with that in India, incorporated the spices they traded (Black Pepper, Pippali, Cardamom, Cinnamon and Coriander), and spices used by locals (Kari Patta, Turmeric, Mustard seeds, Sesame seeds and oil, Tamarind). Jewish laws prohibited mixing milk with meats, so they used coconut milk instead. When Portuguese brought the Chili pepper from the new world, the Jews were more than happy to incorporate chili peppers. They combined the pungency of black pepper, fresh green chili pepper and dried ground red chili peppers. They made fowl stews with dominant flavor from fresh leaves of local spice tree called Kari. These stews were just called by the type of meat and Kari, example: Kozi Kari.

Kari or Kariat was carried over to Portuguese and then to British Merchants. British Merchants called it Currey to differentiate it from their familiar term Cury used for English Cuisine.

One point must be noted, typical Indian curries elsewhere did not have have the Kari leaves.


What about Hobson-Jobson Anglo English dictionary (1886)?

The dictionary maintains that Curry is derived from Kari based on a erroneous translation. The dictionary quotes a passage from the Mahavanso (c A.D. 477), “he partook of rice dressed in butter with its full accompaniment of curries.” The problem is with translation. The original Pali used the word 'supa' and not curry.

Hobson -Jobson accepts the possibility that 'the kind of curry used by Europeans and Mohommedans is not of purely Indian origin, but has come down from the spiced cookery of medieval Europe and Western Asia.'


What about Kadhi?

In North India, there is a soup made of yogurt, chickpea flour and spices. This is called Kadhi. There is no evidence that British ever came in contact with Kadhi before the term Currey or Curry was coined. This is just a mistaken and misdirected explanation.


What about Karahi?

Karahi is an Indian wok, a cookware. There is no evidence to suggest a relationship between 'Karahi' and either Currey or Curry. In reality, a stove-top pot 'Handi' was used to make curries instead.


What about Jahangir Court?

In 1612, the English Merchants attended a state dinner given by Jahangir. The merchants were served ‘Dumpukht fowl stew’ made with butter, spices, almond and raisins. According to attendees, the taste of Dumpukht was similar to ‘English Chicken Pie’ described in a cookery book ‘The English Hus-wife’ by Gevase Markham popular at the time.

Many spices used in Dumpukht had been in use in Europe for centuries earlier. In the time of King Richard I, cooks in better-off kitchens regularly used Ginger, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Cloves, Galingale, Cubebs, Coriander, Cumin, Cardamom, and Aniseed. They formulated 'Powder Fort', 'Powder Douce', and 'Powder Blanch'.

This incident seems to be important from three aspects: 1) At the time Cury was a common term used in England for stew, 2) Spices used in Dumpukht had been in use since King Richard I, 3) The taste of the 'Dumpukht stew' was similar to ‘English Chicken Pie’ at the time. The English must have thought that they were eating Cury.


How did the spelling of Curry evolve?

Cury in ‘The Forme of Cury’, 1390. This had nothing to with Curry, except that Cury became a popular term for stews in UK.


Fowl Rabbit Currey recipe in ‘Art of Cookery’ by Hannah Glasse, 1747. This is the first published currey recipe in UK. The book remained on top best seller list for 125 years. It appeared in 20 editions. The initial 'currey' recipe was for a stew of fowls or rabbit, and used only whole coriander seeds and black peppercorn. In the fourth addition, she added ginger and turmeric


Curry in ‘Chicken Topperfield plus Currypowder’ Recipe by Stephana Malcom in

‘In The Lairds Kitchen, Three Hundred Years of Food in Scotland’ 1791. This recipe is reflective of typical Indian Curries


Curry Powder recipe  in 'Book of Household Management' by Mrs Beeton, 1861. This book had 14 curry recipes including Dr Kitchener's recipe for India Curry Powder. After this book was published, bland stews were Beetonized by adding Curry Powder. The British love-affair with Curry had started.


Currey the Indian way

Two fowls or rabbits, cut into small pieces

Three or four small onions, peeled and cut very small

30 peppercorns

Large spoonful of rice

Coriander seeds, browned over the fire in a clear shovel, and beaten to a powder

Teaspoonful of salt

Fresh butter

Pint of water

Mix all well together with the meat, put all together in a saucepan or stew pan with a pint of water, let it stew softly till the meat is enough, then put in a piece of fresh butter, about as big as a large walnut, shake it well together, and when it is smooth and of a fine thickness, dish it up, and send it to table; if the sauce is too thick, add a little more water before it is done, and more salt if it wants it.

You are to observe that the sauce must be pretty thick.


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