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"'Curry’ : The Global History" | Curry: The eclectic mixture of condiments

The term ‘Curry’, over time, has become ubiquitous to the West’s understanding of the cuisine of the sub-continent. Yet, an evaluation of the history of both Indian cuisine, and the popularly accepted curry reflects another story. Colleen Taylor Sen, a food-writer and journalist, through her vividly descriptive book takes enthusiastic readers down a journey describing the growth and dissemination of this food that has been popularly embraced across the globe.

Price:   399 |  13 May 2017 1:57 PM GMT  |  Radhika Dutt

Curry: The eclectic mixture of condiments

The term ‘Curry’, over time, has become ubiquitous to the West’s understanding of the cuisine of the sub-continent. Yet, an evaluation of the history of both Indian cuisine, and the popularly accepted curry reflects another story. Colleen Taylor Sen, a food-writer and journalist, through her vividly descriptive book takes enthusiastic readers down a journey describing the growth and dissemination of this food that has been popularly embraced across the globe.

Sen says, though mostly understood in tandem with Indian cuisine, Indians themselves never recognised their food by this single over-arching term – the ‘curry’. Curries for Indians existed as ‘do piaza’, ‘rogan-josh’, ‘rara’, ‘bharta’, bases which were infused with a variety of meat, fish and vegetables. The over-arching term curry was a gift bestowed upon Indians by their colonial rulers – the British. The initial phases of colonial rule had witnessed a vivid exchange of ideas, and lifestyle between the British and the Indians. The curry was one such essence adopted widely by the colonial masters. Thereafter, with active trade across the oceans – this eclectic mixture of condiments was popularised around the globe.

The British were the most active in adopting the curry, as Indian restaurants began dotting the streets, and novels wrote colourful anecdotes of characters discussing the curry. The colonies of United States, Canada and Australia with their active import of Indian spices too embraced the curry in its originality.  

The vast immigrations of Indian labourers across the Caribbean, Mauritius, Sri Lanka and Fiji, further popularised this dish that has evolved to become an essential element of everyday diet. 

The history of the curry is not static; through its journey, the curry not only grew in popularity but in its scope too, as different cultures begun appropriating it with their own unique zest. 

The Caribbean natives replaced the coriander with their popularly used shado(w) beni, and spinach like greens of sag were replaced with calloo, the leaf of the dasheen plant. The gaeng – based usually on thick coconut paste had been essential to Thailand. 

Southeast Asian countries have had their own history of preparing curries as accompaniments to rice – which forms the staple diet across most of this region. The sambal goreng and rendang of Indonesia, the popular Nonya curry chicken of Malaysia, accompanied by a murtabak (folded roti) or steamed rice exemplifies the wide acceptance of this dish, which has often been perceived as belonging simply to the sub-continent. The curry was not always consumed in its authentic form – the American curried chicken salad, the German currywurst, and the Punjabi-Mexican-Hindu pizza – are all fusions of a delightful interaction between Western and Indian tastes.

Sen, through her book, step-by-step unravels the different myths surrounding the curry – only to present an untainted history of the wide popularisation of this delicacy. 

The book inter-woven with graphics from 19th century curry stores of Britain, along with images of streets in America selling the popular Indian curry, provides the reader with a treat which is not only visually pleasing, but also if read with enough heart can take one through a journey of exploding tastes. For further satisfaction, the book closes with a list of authentic curry recipes that have been written by cooks from across the globe.

‘The Curry’ will find a wide readership amidst enthusiasts who are hungry to delve into the story of their favourite delicacy.  From the 

Rendang daging of Indonesia, to the Guyanese chicken curry; from the Malaysian Nonya style chicken curry to the Curried goat Trinidadian style – the book is a universe of flavours, ready to inspire any epicure who is willing to take 

the plunge.

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