This basic culinary element weaves Asian cultures.
Fish curry, chicken curry, and curried veggies on a Bangladeshi table.
I stayed in an international school dormitory for one summer where I was invited to different homes and enjoyed delicious, authentic meals from different parts of Asia: Nepal, Bangladesh and India. Every family served different food but one thing was common: curry.
In Malaysia, roti canai is best eaten by hand (right hand).
I lived in Malaysia for few years and, almost every day, I ate roti (bread)with curry sauce or kuah. Then when I moved to Thailand, I discovered that curried dishes are also part of the local diet.
Where does curry come from? I did a little research and found out that curry comes from India, probably the southern part, because the word ‘curry’ itself comes from a Tamil word "kari” (கறி) which means ‘gravy’ or sauce for rice. Most Indian curries include turmeric, cumin, ginger, coriander, garlic and chilies.
Tandoori Chicken with curry sauce.
Traditionally, these spices are toasted and ground for every meal but nowadays premixed curry spices are mostly used in many kitchens not just in Asia but all over the world. What I have in my kitchen now is in powder form. I also have a jar of ready- to-pour rendang curry from Malaysia. Curry spices also come in paste form and in premixed packages. Today in Malaysia, a batu giling, a thick, rectangular granite slab and a long rolling pin made of stone, is still used by some cooks to crushed together curry spices.
Potato salad with curry spice prepared for me by my Nepali host.
Curry has inspired many Asian cooks to create their own distinctive variations. Thai curry paste, or krung gaeng, is traditionally fried in oil-rich coconut cream. The frying must be done slowly until the paste is fragrant. Thai curries are fiery and complex. In Myanmar, curries are generally mild. In Vietnam, and in The Philippines where I grew up, curry is only a minor spice and the locals rely only on a mild premixed curry.
Beef curry serve in Cafe de Coral, Hongkong.
Curry is also used in China but in my five years living there, I cannot recall eating a curried dish maybe because it is mildly used compared to what I’ve tasted in other countries. My Japanese brother in-law, who used to be a chef, would always cook chicken curry using apple instead of potato. So his curry dish tastes a bit sweet. The first meal I had in my recent trip to Hong Kong was beef curry and I tasted more ginger than curry.