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ASG on Curry ~ A Flavor Profile

Flavor Profile Curry

Watching Ugly Delicious on Netflix found a surprising admonition on the episode Don’t Call it Curry - many current generation chefs and cooks are moving away from the reductive term ‘curry’. It, agreeably, connotes imperialism, reducing the diversity of flavors of South-East Asia into a single term. That said, I’d like to challenge that the word ‘curry’ is a triumph. It is born from this diversity of flavors, connoting the Spice Age and a foundational step toward modernity. It, like cultural and regional foods often do, break down barriers and open up a culture to many in unobtrusive ways. The way of the palate.

I don’t agree with imperialism or its affectations of course, Filipino culture is infused with it in troubling ways. But, if we are to celebrate the diversity of the world menu, then we have to see the term ‘curry’ as a desired flavor that opened the culinary door, expanded trade and made the world that much smaller - for better or for worse.

But better and exciting, we see its terms shifting to their actual cultural and regional origins - in the years to come, we’ll call them by those names. It will further open the door and we’ll understand more of their origins, taste the variations, and revel in their colors and in the peoples that make them. No doubt, our culinary terms will change as a result - breaking down each type even beyond a region, but by respective preparations, regional variations in flora, et al. Ah, to be a spiceologist.

If we look at the anglicized ‘curry’ and its history pre-1800s in the UK - we tend toward the generalized combination of dry spices, typically ground of turmeric, ground coriander, ground cumin, ground ginger, and black pepper. As the recipe evolved and was shared, it came to coriander, turmeric, cinnamon, cayenne, mustard, ginger, allspice and fenugreek. Today, in at least what I’ve gathered from recipes and cooked myself - I see it as turmeric, coriander, black bepper, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, with some sort of hot pepper. Perhaps that’s where the term stop - a ‘popularized curry’ as it were. All other types may list under ‘curries’ if the base is the same - then we evolve terminologies from there.

What makes such a combination so special - when considering the Western European palate at the time - mostly salt, black peppers, aromatics, nutmeg, etc. we see a kaleidoscope of flavor. These spices are sharp, fragrant - they awaken the mind.

When I prepared an Ethopian ‘berbere’ last year for making Doro Wat - my senses were opened when ‘flowering’ the spices as part of the recipe. Taking sweet paprika, ground cinnamon, ground ginger, ground turmeric, ground nutmeg, salt to a pan and bringing the heat up - where the temperature starts to change the very accent and taste of the spices when done.

Berbere is a cousin of curry (luckily not termed as such) - but it showed to me how preparation, amounts, handling and use can completely change a profile of a dish. This is obvious to many of you, but I’m still a student of the game. - in this preparation it is dry spices that are simply combined and shook to an even mixture.

From a street food perspective, this traditional flavor profile (turmeric, coriander, black bepper, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, with some sort of hot pepper) drives many dishes. Even if we stick to the Indian faire and approach, there is a great curation site here

As a street food it lends itself well -

  • Traditional easy-to-eat Indian street fair

  • The almost countless curries of the UK (I have some personal background in that as well being assigned to a British unit in Germany)

  • Leading into the traditional currywursts of Germany

  • The curry and katsu combinations of Japan

Curries are comfort food today. They warm the body, they awaken the senses. For me, they open the imagination to combinations of flavors - they recall history, where empires rose and fell around the very spice described here.

Curries must be made with the best ingredients, this was insisted upon even from hundreds of years ago and up to today - don’t skimp and make your own!



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