I’m not sure. I guess that doesn’t bode well coming from someone who was born in India and eats Indian food every day.
The truth is that people from India never use the word curry. It is a manufactured word by the West (predominantly Europe and North America) to label a group of Southeast Asian dishes that have similar qualities. BEWARE: your use of the word risks divulging your ignorance of Indian culture and food. It is akin to visiting an electronics store and telling the clerk that you want to buy electronics. Generic doesn’t begin to describe it. It’s borderline stupidity. It could even be insulting if Indians were not tolerant people.
This article aims to help dissolve the ignorance surrounding curry. If you can converse more intelligently about Indian food after reading this article, consider it mission accomplished. The content in this article reflects personal opinions and is in no way coming from an authority on food or language. My authority extends to the point that I’m just an Indian who is confused when I go to lunch with my colleagues who say, “I’d like to order curry.” If you disagree with my opinions, please enlighten me as to why. Again, Indians are generally tolerant people.
Modern meanings of curry
Curry has been accepted to be a term used to define a group dishes of similar food-based qualities.
Wikipedia defines the common quality of curries to be complex combinations of spices, herbs, or hot chili. According to this definition, a pizza with roasted garlic and red pepper could qualify as curry. But, it doesn’t.
HOBSON-JOBSON, a glossary of Anglo-Indian words, defines curry as a “staple food consists of some cereal, either (as in N. India) in the form of flour baked into unleavened cakes, or boiled in the grain, as rice is. Such food having little taste, some small quantity of a much more savoury preparation is added as a relish…”. According to this definition, all curry must include flour-based items like cereal or rice. I’m not sure about you, but cereal with spices isn’t the first thing to come to mind when I think of curry.
MacMacmillan English Dictionary defines curry as a verb, “to cook something such as meat or vegetables in a sauce…”. According to this definition, something that doesn’t contain sauce or gravy isn’t curry. But, that’s not true.
Generally accepted meanings today imply a vegetable dish, with or without meat, that may also include spices and gravy. In India, the word for a generic vegetable dish varies depending on region – sabzi (sabji), shaak, korma, vindaloo, madras, jalfrezi, and many others.
Origins of the word
The Tamil word Kari means sauce. One theory behind the origin of curry states it came from this Tamil word when the East India Company was trading with Tamil merchants in the 17th Century.
Another theory is that word curry morphed from the Old English word cury. A book titled “The Forme of Cury” contained 196 recipes that involved cooking, boiling, or grilling French cuisine. The book was created when King Richard II of England summoned 180 cooks to produce the first English cookery book.
Show your intelligence by replacing curry
When you visit an Indian restaurant or food cart, do not ask for curry. Do not tell your colleague of Indian origin that you love curry. Save face and show your knowledge of Indian culture by asking for the specific plate you wish to order by name, such as Channa Masala, Chicken Korma, Paneer Makhani, Vegetable Korma, Beingan Bartha, etc. Help stop the ignorance created by over-generalization.
Indian food is a wonderful cuisine. Let’s try to remove the curry from it.