Curry Is Not A Spice

From Sri Lankan fish stew to Rajasthani watermelon to South African bunny chow, these 21 heady recipes show us why the whole world loves this comforting category.

By SAVEUR Editors

Published on August 31, 2021

When nothing but flavorful, saucy comfort food will do, the whole world turns to curry. Hearty, brothy, and elaborately spiced, the category frequently recalls the vibrant streets of India, but while the dish is certainly rooted in the culinary traditions of the Subcontinent, curry has, through a combination of trade, migration, and colonialism, become a centerpiece for myriad cuisines all around the world. 

Decoding the dish is fairly simple. The word “curry” comes from an anglicized version of the Tamil "kari"a spiced sauce to be eaten over rice. Some versions are thickened with a starchy roux, while others begin with an aromatic ginger-garlic paste. From there, any medley of fresh or dried spices may be incorporated, as well as meat, seafood, vegetables, or even fruits. Just about any ingredient can be curried. Watermelon takes center stage in a Rajasthani version, while an expansive list of flavor-absorbing root vegetables are widely loved in curries from Japan to South Africa to the Caribbean

While many of these fragrant, warming stews are takeout fixtures, there’s also merit into making them at home. Here are some of our favorite curry recipes from around the globe.

At Cantinho do Aziz, Khalid Aziz draws crowds with Mozambican dishes that honor his family's heritage, like this take on a traditional crab curry. The first step for this dish calls for making coconut milk from unsweetened coconut, which has a cleaner flavor and lighter texture than the canned variety. Get the recipe for Mozambican Coconut Crab Curry »

A sprinkling of the Japanese chile flakes known as ichimi togarashi is the ideal finishing touch for these saucy noodles. Get the recipe for Beef Curry Udon »

Sop up the rich coconut-based curry in this chicken dish with jasmine rice or dinner rolls. Get the recipe for Macanese-Style Portuguese Chicken »

Curries made with unripe or underripe mangoes are popular in South Asia and parts of the Caribbean. This vegan and gluten-free version comes to us from Jamaican writer Vaughn Stafford Gray, who serves the dish as a condiment, side, or even the main event, alongside fluffy basmati rice or warm roti. Get the recipe for Curried Green Mangoes »

Chicken, seasoned and grilled over coals, is a staple across Thailand, but a couple elements make this southern variant unique. Most notably, its marinade is essentially a curry, which is painted over the meat in layers as it cooks, resulting in a grilled bird that’s rich, extremely fragrant, and smoky. Get the recipe for Kai Kawlae (Southern Thai-Style Grilled Chicken) »

This relatively mild, lightly sour, and deeply aromatic yellow curry, adapted from Yusra and Mohamed Ali Makim, is a breakfast staple eaten throughout Sri Lanka. Get the recipe for Sri Lankan Fish Curry »

Thai-style dumplings add a nice, bouncy texture to this green curry. Get the recipe for Green Curry with Fish and Eggplant (Kaeng Khiaw Waan) »

Bunny chow, a hollowed out bread bowl with a spicy, meaty curried filling, is as delightfully messy as it sounds. You can eat every last morsel of this version from Hollywood Bets in Durban, including the curry-soaked bread from the bottom and sides. Get the recipe for Indian Lamb Curry in a Bread Bowl (Bunny Chow) »

Chicken korma is a beloved Indian recipe that came from the Moghuls (the Muslim rulers of much of India from the 16th to 19th centuries). The meat is lightly browned, then simmered in yogurt and pureed almonds and cashew nuts, which give the dish its creaminess, but what makes it really special are the fragrant spices: I use whole spices and grind them together so their flavors become one in the sauce. Get the recipe for Creamy Indian Chicken Curry (Murgh Korma) »

This dry curry is caramelized in pork fat rather than cracked coconut cream, and there’s no coconut milk for gravy, making the flavors of the paste—citrusy lemongrass, gingery krachai, briny shrimp—more pronounced. Get the recipe for Phat Phrik Khing Muu (Red Curry with Pork Belly and Green Beans) »

Any firm fish, including snapper, trout, or salmon, will work in this green mango-infused south Indian curry, named for the Keralan coastal city of Thalassery and flavored with coconut, ginger, curry leaves, and turmeric. Get the recipe for Thalassery Meen Curry (Thalassery-Style Fish Curry) »

In Goa, a tiny, palm-fringed state on the western coast of India, seafood is central to the cuisine. Beloved regional specialty sembharachi kodi, or shrimp in a coconut curry, is prepared a number of ways, but always with the freshest local shellfish simmered in a rich, chile-spiked coconut sauce. Get the recipe for Goanese Shrimp Curry (Sembharachi Kodi) »

For this aromatic nasi padang dish, red snapper is simmered in a spicy coconut curry. Get the recipe for Indonesian Red Snapper Curry »

A specialty of the Indian state of Rajasthan, this delicious curry plays the sweet, juicy flesh of the watermelon against a complex background of chiles and spices. Get the recipe for Watermelon Curry »

This Jain-style curry pairs airy chickpea fritters with a creamy, tangy sauce. Get the recipe for Jain-Style Besan Curry (Chickpea Fritters in Curry) »

This vibrant Indian curry comes from the Meghwal tribe of Gujarat, India. Since there is little local agriculture—the closest vegetable market is in the capital city of Bhuj, 35 miles away—the cuisine is spare, but it is delicious in its simplicity. Get the recipe for Vegetarian Potato and Cabbage Curry »

Eggplant is simmered to melting softness in a fantastically pungent curry fortified by shrimp paste. Get the recipe for Burmese Eggplant Curry (Khayan Thee Hnut) »

Sweet shrimp are fried with fragrant spices and aromatics and then ground to create this homestyle dish from the east Indian state of Odisha. Fresh cilantro adds a zesty, herbaceous note. Get the recipe for Odisha Shrimp Curry »

Bathed in fragrant curry- and ginger-infused coconut milk, this stew is a popular breakfast dish at Kingston cafés. Get the recipe for Curried Chicken »

Daikon, a type of large white radish with a peppery, earthy flavor, has long been a staple of Indian cooking. In this simple vegetarian curry from cookbook author and cooking instructor Smita Chandra, chopped daikon is enhanced with an aromatic blend of coriander, cumin, turmeric, and other spices. Get the recipe for Smita Chandra’s Daikon Curry »

The dried spices in this complex, coconut-enriched Thai curry from chef Andy Ricker of Pok Pok reveal its South Asian origins. Ricker's advice, from his October 2013 article The Star of Siam: "Follow the recipe exactly the first time, then adjust the seasonings and the coconut milk. Put your stamp on it. After all, that's what the Thai do." Get the recipe for Kaeng Kàrìi (Yellow Curry with Beef and Potatoes) »

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