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Curry of the Asian Continent

In this article we’ll be traveling around Asia and seeing how the various regions within the continent and even some of the specific countries within those regions use curry.

When people hear the word curry their minds automatically go to Indian food. There is literally a world of different types of curry out there though. In this article we’ll be traveling around Asia and seeing how the various regions within the continent and even some of the specific countries within those regions use curry. Yes, we will be touching on India as it is where curry powder originated from, but it will not be our sole focus.

Did you know that the word curry itself actually does not truly refer to anything? It is not a type of sauce; it is not a specific way to cook a meat or make a stew. Curry was just a way for people colonizing new regions to describe foreign fare and some places took on the term to make their food appear more fantastical.

Nevertheless, let us begin with discussing what curry powder is at its root. Curry powder began as a mixture of garlic, ginger and turmeric over 4000 years ago. Along the way new things where brought to the table such as the omnipresent chili pepper introduced by the Portuguese. Curry powder has grown up some and taken on different flavors. The Indian curry that most know of today is now more a mixture of coriander for its nutty yet fruity quality, turmeric for its beautiful yellow color, cumin for its warm earthiness, garam masala which is actually a spice blend all it’s own and is to Indian cooking what herbs de Provence is to French, and chili peppers for their heat.  Many other spices can also be found in a curry powder though depending on the recipe. There will be the original garlic and ginger but there may also be white turmeric, fennel seed, mustard seed, caraway seed, fenugreek, cinnamon, clove, green or black cardamom, nutmeg, curry leaf, black pepper, long pepper which is the dried fruit of a specific flowering vine or asafoetida also known as devil’s dung and comes from a plant that smells horrible and has a bitter taste but people use the juices of its roots to make a resin for a number of things including cooking. So see, curry itself is not anything truly specific as mentioned above but more a way to describe a different style of food.

Some of the spices in a curry also have health benefits so not only does it taste amazing but it may slightly help with health as well. Coriander for instance is good for upset stomachs, ginger is great for clearing sinuses and is good for cold and flu and helps with digestion, nausea and a host of other things, ginger is amazing on many levels, turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties, cinnamon is rich in antioxidants, reducing cholesterol and helping stabilize blood pressure.

In visiting it is found that there are five different regions to Asia and within those forty-eight different countries.

Central Asia is where we find the five smaller stans, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan. This region due to its heavily nomadic lifestyle does not have a curry to call its own. Here various types of pilafs are the main meal using horse meat or mutton which can be an adult sheep or a goat, in this region it is most generally goat.

Eastern Asia is the most popular when referencing anything Asian, it houses China, Japan, Mongolia and the Koreas. This is also where we find the territories of Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao which are all dependencies of China. A Chinese curry powder tends to include coriander, cumin, turmeric, ginger, fennel, cloves, pepper, fenugreek, chili and the sauce is of a coconut base. A Japanese curry powder tends to be a base of only four ingredients, turmeric, coriander, cumin and cardamom yet to add heat there may also be black or cayenne pepper; to give it an aromatic flare clove or fennel may be added and some powders have other spices as well such as cinnamon, star anise, allspice, cocoa powder or coffee powder just to name a few, one may even find hints of sage, oregano or bay leaf. A Japanese curry roux is a mixture of butter, curry powder, garam masala which also has many of the spices listed here and white pepper. A Japanese curry sauce tends to be thicker in texture and taste sweeter than those from Indian cuisine. A Japanese curry powder is also dark in color. Moving on to Korea where the curry powder changes yet again, while theirs has some of the various spices mentioned in this article it also tends to contain wheat flour, corn flour, onion and garlic powders and sugar. Mongolian cooking is heavily based on dairy, meats and animal fats so there is not a curry to call their own.


CandiAnne’s Japanese Curry For 2

1 teaspoon cooking oil of your choice, I prefer olive

1/2 yellow onion sliced thin

1/2-pound skinless, boneless chicken breasts cut into bite size pieces

1 carrot sliced thin

2 cups water

1 large potato cut into bite size pieces

1/2 small green apple peeled and pureed

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon garam masala (the one I use is by McCormick and contains coriander, black pepper, cumin, cardamom and cinnamon)

 For the Roux

1 tablespoons butter

1/8 cup flour

1 tablespoons garam masala (the one I use is by McCormick and contains coriander, black pepper, cumin, cardamom and cinnamon)

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/8 ground white pepper

1/2 tablespoon ketchup

1/2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

Step 1

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and add onions, sauté the onions until they are golden brown and caramelized, about 8 minutes then set aside.

Step 2

Add the chicken and fry until lightly browned on all sides about 10 minutes

Step 3

Return the onions to the pan, add the carrots and water, bring to a boil. Add the potato, apple, salt, and garam masala and simmer for about 30 minutes until potato and carrot are soft. Be sure to skim off any foam or oil that accumulates on the surface.

For the Roux

Melt butter in small skillet over medium low heat, add the flour and garam masala, whisk until you have a thick paste, whisk in cayenne and white pepper then whisk in ketchup and Worcestershire.

Step 4

When the vegetables are done and chicken is 165 degrees F internally, add 3/4 cup of liquid into the roux then whisk until it’s smooth. Pour this mixture back into meat and veggie pot and gently stir until thickened.

Serve over rice


South-Eastern Asia is where Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos, Singapore. Timor-Leste and Brunei are found. Indonesian curry powder consists of white cardamom pods, coriander, celery and cumin seeds, cinnamon sticks, cloves and chili powder so it has a sweet smoky taste with a tiny bit of heat. Vietnamese curry powder has the normal turmeric, cumin, coriander, etcetera of the other curry powders but in theirs mace, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf, green pepper and cassia can also be found adding a citric touch. Burmese (Myanmar) curry is simply garlic, ginger and onion. Thailand and Laos both tend to use a red curry paste, this paste is very hot and uses red Thai chili peppers in addition to the normal spices one finds in a curry, it also has the addition of lemongrass and kaffir lime like the curry of Vietnam. The remaining countries in this region of Asia all use premade powders and pastes, some like the powder used in Singapore have many less chilis than the paste used in Thailand and Laos.


CandiAnne’s Thai Red Chicken Curry For 2

1 teaspoon cooking oil of your choice, I prefer olive

1/2-pound skinless, boneless chicken breasts cut into bite size pieces

1 1/2 teaspoons Thai red curry paste

1/2 cup zucchini sliced thin

1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced into strips

3 tablespoons carrots sliced thin

1/2 yellow onion sliced thin

1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch

1/2 (14 ounce) can coconut milk

1 tablespoon fresh cilantro chopped

Step 1

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken pieces; cook and stir for about 10 minutes until chicken is well browned. Mix in the curry paste, zucchini, bell pepper, carrot and onion. Cook until vegetables are soft and chicken is 165 degrees F internally, about 8 more minutes

Step 2

Dissolve the cornstarch in the coconut milk, then pour into the skillet. Bring to a boil, then simmer over medium heat for 1 minute until sauce is well thickened. Right before serving, stir in the cilantro.

Southern Asia contains India, Bangladesh, Iran, Nepal. Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Maldives and the two big stans, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Bangladesh uses both a curry powder and a curry paste depending on the recipe they are working with. Iran tends to add saffron for a richer yellow color and a bit of sweetness. The Nepalese curry has all the spices we’ve come to know in this article and they are used with chicken primarily. Sri Lanka adds green cardamom seeds and black mustard to the normal coriander, cumin, etcetera mixture. Where in Bhutan, the curry itself is green cayenne, garlic and coriander but what’s interesting here is that they have a curry dish that is made from feta and contains no meat at all. In the Maldives, curries are very popular. One thing they do differently is that they will roast the spices on a hot dry pan before grinding them into a powder. This is something I have not read of being done anywhere else in Asia. In both Afghanistan and Pakistan it’s not so much about the spice as there are many curry powder combinations one can come across, see Here it’s about what is inside, the Afghanis make a curry using kidney beans which isn’t what one normally thinks when they hear the word curry and the only typical curry spices in it are cumin and coriander.  Now then, India, the one country most everyone thinks of when they hear curry. The spices they use are typical, cumin, coriander, etcetera. The heat level is completely dependent on one’s taste buds and ability to handle the heat.

20190907_185645CandiAnne’s Murgh Kari (Indian Chicken Curry) for 2

1/2-pound skinless, boneless chicken breasts cut into bite size pieces

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons cooking oil of your choice, I prefer olive

1/2 cup chopped red onion

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1/2 teaspoon minced fresh ginger root

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/8 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/4 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

5 tablespoons water

1/2 (15 ounce) can crushed tomatoes

1/3 cup plain yogurt

2 teaspoon chopped fresh cilantro

1/2 teaspoon garam masala (the one I use is by McCormick and contains coriander, black pepper, cumin, cardamom and cinnamon)

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Step 1

Sprinkle the chicken breasts with 1/8 teaspoon salt.

Step 2

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat; cook and stir for about 10 minutes until completely browned. Transfer the browned chicken to a plate and set aside.

Step 3

Add the onion, garlic, and ginger to the oil remaining in the skillet and cook and stir until the onion turns translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in the cumin, turmeric, coriander, cayenne, and 1 tablespoon of water into the onion mixture; allow to heat together for about 1 minute while stirring. Mix the tomatoes, yogurt, 1 teaspoon chopped cilantro, and 1/8 teaspoon salt into the mixture. Return the chicken to the skillet along with any juices on the plate. Pour remaining 4 tablespoons water into the mixture; bring to a boil, turning the chicken to coat with the sauce. Sprinkle the garam masala and 1 teaspoon cilantro over the chicken.

Step 4

Turn heat down to simmer-high for about 10 minutes. Cook until chicken is 165 degrees F internally. Sprinkle with lemon juice to serve.

Western Asia contains the most countries, which are Turkey, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Syria, Jordan, Azerbaijan, United Arab Emirates, Israel, Lebanon, State of Palestine, Oman, Kuwait, Georgia, Armenia, Qatar, Bahrain and Cyprus. Turkey uses the urfa biber pepper in their curry which has a dark purple black color and an “intriguing salty-sweet-smoky-sour flavor” per Food & Wine Magazine with a very low heat ratio around that of cayenne but builds as you eat it. In Yemen it’s about black peppercorns and saffron being added. United Arab Emirates here curry powder seems to be purchased as I could find no reference to a custom recipe all their own. I found a very intriguing Japanese curry powder that is sold in Dubai though at where orange peel is one of the ingredients. Syria adds curry leaves. While searching the remainder of this region I found that much of their curry involves coconut and most places have curry restaurants instead of their own version.

As you can see curry is an idea, it is a set of spices that work well together to give a dish some definitive flare with sweetness, earthiness, and/or spice. It is all about what you make it and what you want it to be. So go forth and attack your spice cabinet, maybe try a new spice such as fenugreek or green cardamom that you have not tried before and maybe have never even heard of. Play with flavor, play with ideas, make your own combination of the spices you have read about here. Come up with your own take on curry but most important of all, have fun with this and keep cooking!!!



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