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A History Primer for (Indian) Curry

A History Primer for (Indian) Curry

The dish known as curry has been a long-reigning worldwide phenomenon. From Japan to Thailand, to England, and now East Coast United States.

According to historian Colleen Taylor Sen, in Curry: A Global History (2009), curry found its way to North America during the founding of the Jamestown colony in the early 1600s largely thanks to the British East India Trading Company. Indian food in Virginia, as it turns out, has a deep recondite history than meets the eye. Because of Britain’s fortunes of empire, India and America’s culinary destinies were interwoven.

According to food historian Lizzie Collingham, in Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors (2006), the term etymologically originates from the Portuguese mispronunciation of the Indian spice blend khari o caril while on Goa, India starting from around the 1500s.

The spice trade that was a lifeline for young Portugal was formative not only for the European colonial drive (Britain’s ambitions) but also in sowing the seeds for a truly global economy – global connections and exchanges. But is curry a dish? In the West, curry exists as a powder or a spice blend. This traces back to British commercialization since the 1700s. And as if to complicate the matter, curry in Indian cuisine is not one dish but many.

Indeed, the quintessential American cookbooks of Mary Randolph The Virginia Housewife (1838), Eliza Leslie’s Directions for Cookery in its Various Branches (1837) and even A.P. Hill’s Mrs. Hill’s New Cook Book (1870) make explicit references to dishes with “curry” powder.

Visit Bhai Sahab, an Indian restaurant in Leesburg, Virginia today and get a taste of this delicious cuisine!

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