Curries from Around the World: Differences by Country

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There is no easy way to define “curry.” Usually, any dish that contains curry powder or curry paste is considered curry, and the curry spices that make up the pastes and powders vary from region to region. A curry blend usually, but not always, includes turmeric, coriander, cumin and hot chili peppers, but it can include a variety of other spices as well, including, but not limited to, cinnamon, ginger, garlic, cardamom, tamarind and fenugreek.

You Will Learn About Curries In The Following Regions:

  • Afghanistan
  • Bangladesh
  • Bengal
  • China
  • India
  • Indonesia
  • Japan
  • Malaysia
  • Nepal
  • Pakistan
  • Punjab
  • Sri Lanka
  • Thailand

Afghanistan

Afghan curries are eaten around the world and have influenced dishes in South Asia, particularly in Pakistan. One of the most popular curry-like dishes in Afghanistan is the Afghan korma. It is usually based on onions and a meat braised in a yogurt sauce.

Afghan Curry SpicesCommon Afghan Curry Ingredients
Black pepper, cardamom, cayenne pepper
cilantro, coriander garlic,
ginger, turmeric
Beef, chicken, lamb,
lentils, lotus root, onions,
plums, raisins, spinach
turnips, veal, yogurt

Bangladesh

Bangladesh curries are renowned for being spicier than their traditional Indian counterparts. They differ from region to region, often containing salt-water fish and coconut milk in the south, and fresh-water fish and extra spices and vegetables in the north. Beef curry is a popular dish. Other dishes in Bangladesh often come in the form of dals, a lentil stew that contains a variety of legumes and the basic spices found in curry.

Bangladeshi Curry SpicesCommon Bangali Curry Ingredients
Cardamom, chilies, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, garlic, turmericBeans, beef, coconut milk, fish, lentils, onions, potatoes, chicken, lamb, lentils, lotus root, onions, plums, raisins, spinach, turnips, veal, yogurt

Bengal

Bengali cuisine is found in Bengal, a region that straddles both Indian and Bangladesh. It is diverse and contains influences from all over the world, including European, Indian, Chinese and Middle Eastern influences. Most Bengali curries contain fish or shrimp. A huge variety of vegetables are used. The spice mix is diverse, the most popular being a five-spice combination known as panch puran (fenugreek, mustard, fennel, cumin, kalonji). One of the most unique aspects of Bangali fish curry is the presence of ground black mustard seeds.

Bangali Curry SpicesCommon Bangali Curry Ingredients
Black mustard seed, cilantro, cumin, fennel, fenugreek, garlic, kalonji (a.k.a black caraway or fennel flower), red chiliesEggplant, fish, gourds, greens, lemon, okra, onion, plantains, potato, pumpkin, shrimp

China

As with most regions of Central and Eastern Asia, China has traded recipes and spices with South Asian countries for centuries. Chinese curries are largely influenced by Malaysian cuisine. Usually they are made from a thin, watery, yellow curry sauce. As with other Chinese dishes, Chinese curry is often eaten with condiments like hot chili oil or soy sauce.

Chinese Curry SpicesCommon Chinese Curry Ingredients
Cardamom, cayenne pepper, coriander, cumin, red chilies, turmeric, yellow mustard seed, white pepperBeef, bell peppers, chicken, fish, mutton, onions, potato

India

While curries have been developed throughout the world and are influenced by a variety of cultures, India is often considered the true birthplace of the curry spice blend. Curry dishes in India are as diverse as pasta dishes in Italy. Curries are eaten in every region of India, and each region has at least one distinctive curry dish.» Indian Curries By Region

Some of the most popular types of authentic Indian curry include the following:

  • Masala – A blend of spices and herbs mixed with ghee and cream to create a rich sauce.
  • Vindaloo – An especially fiery curry containing black peppercorn and lemon juice.
  • Tandoori – A milder curry that is made in a special clay oven known as a tandoor or tandoori oven.
  • Madras – A spicy curry made sour with the acids in lemon juice and tomatoes.
Indian Curry SpicesCommon Indian Curry Ingredients
Anise, asafetida, bay leaves, cardamom, cassia (A cinnamon-like bark), cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, curry leaf, fennel seeds, fenugreek, garlic, ginger, mustard seeds, nutmeg, tamarind, turmeric, saffronGhee, onions, paneer (A fresh Indian cheese), peas, potatoes, lemon, tomatoes

Indonesia

In Indonesia, curry dishes, known as “kari” or “gulai”, differ from region to region. They can contain a wide variety of seafoods or meats, the most unique of which are water buffalo or goat meats. Rendang is a common curry found there, and the authentic version of Indonesian rendang uses water buffalo meat slowly simmered in coconut milk. Another popular curry there, “opor ayam”, is made by simmering chicken in coconut milk or cream, lime juice and lemongrass. There are also a variety of curries that utilize peanut sauces.

Indonesian Curry SpicesCommon Indonesian Curry Ingredients
Bay leaves, chili peppers, coriander, cumin, curry leaves, garlic, ginger, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, tamarind, turmeric, white pepperWater buffalo, fish, chicken, goat, coconut meat, coconut milk, lime, peanuts, pineapple, shallots, soy sauce

Japan

Japenese curry, known as “kari” in Japan, is a very popular dish. Curry in Japan came not from its south Asian neighbors, but rather from British cuisine. Curry rice is the most popular form, and consists of a curried stew, thickened with roux and served over rice. The flavors of curry have also influenced the development of Japanese country cuisine; for example, udon noodles are often served in a curry-flavored broth. Kari-pan – or deep-fried curry doughnut – is another Japanese dish that utilizes curry flavors. In recent years, different regions of Japan have popularized their own specialty curries, including fruit curry.

Japanese Curry SpicesCommon Japanese Curry Ingredients
Cardamom, coriander, cumin, galangal (a.k.a blue ginger), garlic, ginger, green chilies, lemongrass, red chilies, turmericApples, beef, carrots, chicken, coconut milk, fish, melons, onions, oysters, pear, pork, potatoes, scallops, udon noodles

Malaysia

Curry in Malaysia is very diverse, and different localities eat different kinds of curries. In general, curries in Malaysia rely heavily on turmeric, chilies and garlic. They usually have a creamy coconut-milk base and are thicker than curries in most other regions. Rendang is a popular tomato-based Malaysian curry, usually including beef, that is often prepared during festivals or celebratory events and served with rice cakes or lemang – rice barbecued in tubes of bamboo.

Malaysian Curry SpicesCommon Malaysian Curry Ingredients
Chilies, galangal (a.k.a blue ginger), garlic, ginger, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, shrimp paste, tamarind, turmericBeef, cassava, chicken, coconut milk, cuttlefish, eggplant, eggs, fish, jackfruit, lamb, onions, shrimp, water buffalo

Nepal

Curries in Nepal are similar to those of northeast India. The most common curry dish is Nepalese dal, composed of lentils, tomatoes and onions. Also popular are curried vegetables, known as tarkaris. Nepal is famous for contributing to the development of vegetable curries, including aloo gobi tarkari (cauliflower and potato curry) and saag tarkari (leafy green curry). Another popular Nepalese dish is fermented vegetable curry, known as gundruk.

Nepalese Curry SpicesCommon Nepalese Curry Ingredients
Black pepper, cilantro, cumin, garlic, ginger, yellow mustard seed, red chilies, turmericCauliflower, potato, spinach, mustard greens, lentils, lime, tomatoes, onions

Pakistan

While Pakistani curries do not differ greatly from Indian curries, they are as diverse as their Indian counterparts. There are several curries that are wholly unique to the Sindhi region of Pakistan and India, including bhugal bheeha (lotus root curry) and curry chawal (a tomato curry). In the West, the most widely known Pakistani dish is korma, a curry where the ingredients are braised with cream, yogurt or broth. Another popular Pakastani dish is chicken or mutton kadai, which is a curry cooked in a karahi – a type of round cooking vessel similar to a flat-bottomed wok.

Pakistani Curry SpicesCommon Pakistani Curry Ingredients
Bay leaves, black pepper, cardamom, cloves, coriander, garlic, ginger, green chilies, onion, red chilies, turmericCabbage, cauliflower, chickpeas, cream, eggplant, gourd, greens, lady finger, lentils, lotus root, nuts, okra, paneer, potato, rutabega, tomatoes, yogurt

Punjab

Punjab is a region that stretches across both Pakistan and India. Curries in this region feature a variety of spice blends, but masala-style curry is the most popular. Dishes are often cooked in a tandoor. Dairy is a common ingredient in Punjabi curry, and most of the vegetables or meats are cooked with ghee – purified butter. Popular curries include pakora curry (fried vegetable fritters in a curry sauce). Curries are often served with naan, an Indian bread.

Punjabi Curry SpicesCommon Punjabi Curry Ingredients
Asafetida, bay leaves, cardamom, cloves, coriander, cumin, garlic, ginger, nutmeg, peppercorns, pippali, red chiliesCream, kidney beans, lentils, mushrooms, mustard leaves, onions, paneer, spinich, tomatoes

Sri Lanka

The island of Sri Lanka is host to a wide variety of curries, which along with rice make up the staple of Sri Lankan cuisine. Sri Lankan curry is reknowned for being particularly spicy. Most Sri Lankan meals are served with a protein curry and side curries made with vegetables, pulses or even fruit, such as mango or apple curry. Curries in Sri Lanka usually contain coconut milk and often even grated coconut. Sri Lankan curries can be served alongside chutneys, pickles or sambol – a paste made with chilies, onions and dried maldive fish. A popular unique curry dish is lamparis – rice cooked in a curry-flavored broth. Curries are so ubiquitous in Sri Lanka that there is even a word for a dish of mixed, leftover curries: koola’ya.

Sri Lankan Curry SpicesCommon Sri Lankan Curry Ingredients
Black pepper, cardamom, coriander, cumin, curry tree leaves, green chilies, red chilies, tamarindApples, beef, chicken, coconut meat, coconut milk, dried maldive fish, eggs, gourd, jakcfruit, lentils, lime, mango, mutton, onions, pork, potatoes, pumpkin, spinach, tomatoes

Thailand

In Thailand, curries are often categorized by their color. Green curry derives its color from green chilies and basil, red curry from red chilies, and yellow curry from turmeric. Other popular Thai curries that do not fall into these categories include massaman curry (spicy curry made with roasted peanuts) and panang curry (a milder, creamy beef curry), as well as several orange or golden water-based curries that are spicier because they do not contain coconut milk. Thailand is home to a diverse group of curries unique to Thai cuisine, most of which have become increasingly popular in the Western hemisphere.  » Thai Curry Guide

Thai Curry SpicesCommon Thai Curry Ingredients
Black pepper, cardamom, coriander, cumin, curry tree leaves, green chilies, red chilies, tamarindApples, beef, chicken, coconut meat, coconut milk, dried maldaive fish, eggs, gourd, jackfruit, lentils, lime, mango, mutton, onions, pork, potatoes, pumpkin, spinach, tomatoes

Curry in the Rest of the World

Because of the trade with the East Indies, curry dishes developed several centuries ago in Africa, Europe and the rest of the Western Hemisphere. Unique curry dishes can be found in Great Britain, Ethiopia, South Africa, Central Africa, Germany and the Caribbean. Most of these dishes are based off of Indian or Bangladeshi curries. With the spread of curries throughout the world, “curry” is now often used to describe a variety of dishes from around the globe.

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