History of Chicken Curry – How the Portuguese Helped Created It


People hardly ever ask the origin of foods such as sushi, hamburger, and chicken curry. Curry is as Indian as sushi is Japanese and hamburger is American, so chicken curry has got to be Indian, right? This would be technically correct in short, but there’s also a detailed wise guy answer that one can use in a pop quiz to impress just about anybody. Here’s the story.

Curry is the anglicized version of the Tamil word “kari”, lest some English speakers would pronounce it “carry”. Curry is so popular in the West that it wouldn’t shock anybody if the female name of Carrie or Keri had been inspired by kari (not really).

The funny thing is curry (or kari) is rarely used to describe cooked food in Indian households. In India, what we know as curry takes on many regional flavors and these dishes are named distinctively rather than with the general term of curry.

History of Chicken Curry

Kari in Tamil is the sauce from meat or vegetables cooked with spices. It can be dry, in thin soup, or in a thick stew such as our general impression of curry. It is made with a combination of spices, which may be added at different stages of cooking to achieve different results. Commercial curry powder of today is also a combination of spices, except of course all the spices would be added at the same time.

The use of spices in India has been traced archaeologically to around 2600 BCE. Ingredients used in curry would go through changes over time. When the Portuguese arrived in India in the 16th century, they brought with them chili powder, tomato, and potato from the New World. Some curry dishes would become tomato-based, potatoes were added to both vegetable and meat curry dishes, and best of all the addition of chili powder would explode the flavor of curry, and, with the help of the English, curry would catapult to its worldwide popularity of today.

The biggest beneficiary of the Portuguese is the chicken curry. To many of us, chicken curry must have potato, tomato, and chili powder.

Hannah Glasse published the first English curry recipe in 1747. The recipe is called “To make a curry the Indian way” and it’s for a chicken curry. A century before that there can be found a kari recipe in a 17th-century Portuguese cookbook.

So there you go. It’s time to show off your chicken curry knowledge.

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