Curry is, supposedly, Indian. But there is no such word in any of the country’s many official languages. So what is curry? This episode takes us to India, Britain, and Japan on a quest to understand how a variety of spicy, saucy dishes ended up being lumped together under one name—and then transformed into something completely different as they were transported around the world. From a post-pub vindaloo in Leeds to comforting kare raisu in Kyoto, we explore the stories and flavors of curry—a dish that’s from nowhere and yet eaten nearly everywhere.
According to Lizzie Collingham, a food historian and the author of Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors, to trace the origins of curry, we need to go back to when the Portuguese first captured Goa, India, in the early 1500s. “And they’d say, Oooh, what are you eating?” said Collingham, “and the Indians replied using a word like khari or caril.” At the time, Collingham explained, those words likely referred to a particular spice blend, as well as the finished dish it was used in; the same words are still in use, but usually refer to a type of sauce or gravy. Today, that’s Raghavan Iyer’s definition: He wrote a doorstop of a cookbook titled 660 Curries, and he uses curry to refer to “anything that has a sauce or gravy—it can be with or without spices.”