When you think of curry, what comes to mind first? Maybe you imagine a rich and creamy Indian meal, with a red-orange hue, served with rice, chicken and chickpeas, or a bowl of Thai red curry with a bit of lime and creamy coconut milk. 

The idea of curry is a bit more complex than it might seem, as there are curry powders, curry pastes and curry meals across the globe to enjoy. So, all of this brings us to one fundamental question, what is curry exactly?

What Makes a Curry Dish, a Curry? 

The idea of curry is not only found in Indian cuisine. In fact, it reaches from Pakistan to East Asia, China and even the UK. However you’ve experienced it, there is one unifying factor for all international curry dishes. Essentially, it contains a sauce flavored by a mix of spices, and it’s more commonly thought of as a style of cooking with a vast umbrella of dishes, rather than just one. 

To really understand curry, it’s important to learn three of the most common ways you can find it, and we’ll give you a few recipes to try along the way! Hungry to learn more? Keep reading! 

Curry As a Dish

While there are a vast number of dishes labeled as “curry” all over the globe, as we previously stated, it is identified as a meal prepared with meat, vegetables or legumes in a heavily spiced sauce. However, there are a few other common traits regarding the type of curry and ingredients used.

Instant Pot Red Curry Chicken and Rice Soup
Thai Red Curry Chicken & Rice Instant Pot Soup

Wet and Dry Curries

When broken down, curries can often be identified as wet or dry

Dry: Many Indian curry dishes are considered dry, as they are cooked in lesser amounts of liquid such as broth, juice from tomatoes or coconut milk. It is left to simmer for enough time to evaporate, leaving the ingredients well coated with a flavorful sauce. 

Wet: Wet curries, such as those found in Thailand, are often made in an abundance of liquid including broth, coconut milk or cream, yogurt or sofrito-like legume or vegetable purees.

Start experimenting in your kitchen by trying your hand at making a drier Vegetarian Curry With Spinach, Tomatoes and Chickpeas or a more liquid-based Thai Red Curry Chicken & Rice Soup. Get ready for a flavorful meal, no matter which you choose. 

Common Curry Ingredients 

While there are always new and innovative ingredients, we’ll go through some of the most traditional items used in curries, based on a few prominent areas and countries where it is most often served.

Indian Subcontinent: fresh ginger, meat and legumes, tomatoes, peppers, onion, coconut milk, spice blends (more on that later). 

East Asia: fish, seafood, poultry, coconut milk, lime, curry paste, sugar, chilies.

United Kingdom: meat, legumes, fresh ginger, onions, tomatoes, carrots, yogurt, cream, coconut milk, spice blends. 

How to Accompany Your Curry

While Indian curries are often accompanied by seasoned flatbread naan and fresh cilantro, there is one unbeatable pair for any type of curry across the globe — rice.

Massaman-Curry-with-Beef-and-Basmati-Rice
Beef Massaman Curry with Success® Basmati Rice

Ideally, the best rice for soaking up all of that curry goodness are long grain and aromatic varieties that cook up fluffy and separate such as jasmine and basmati or traditional long grain white rice. While traditionally Jasmine Rice is more commonly used for East Asian curries, Basmati Rice is used for Indian recipes, but use what you prefer best or have most readily available. 

Curiosity Tip: Did you know that jasmine has a floral aroma and basmati has a buttery popcorn, nutty aroma? Learn more in our guide to the key differences between these two rice varieties.

Curry Paste

In contrast to common powder versions of curry spice, Thailand, among other countries, is well-known for its use of curry paste. Pastes are made from slightly sautéed or toasted spices that are then ground together to form a solid thickener to use in curry soups, stews and skillets.

Differences in Colors

If you’ve ever taken a look down the spice or international aisle of your supermarket, you might notice that there are a few different varieties of curry paste. The difference in color and spice level comes mainly from the chili peppers and different spices blended in. 

Red – bold with the spiciest flavor.

Yellow – mild and in between the other two. Has a tangy flavor and golden hue.

Green – mildest and brightest flavor.

This Thai-inspired dish of Beef Massaman Curry calls for spicy red curry paste, but you can also use a milder yellow or green curry paste made with less spicy peppers. 

However, in the true international and varied nature of curry, using a paste is not specific to one country or another, but rather a cooking method to add more flavor. Try it out in this Easy Indian Curried Chicken recipe with peanuts, coconut milk and aromatic Success® Jasmine Rice.

Chicken-Curry-with-Jasmine-Rice-Easy-Recipe
Easy Indian Inspired Curried Chicken with Jasmine Rice

Curry Spice Blends 

In western countries, the most common recipes for making a curry dish involve a spice blend which can include a curry powder or garam masala. And, although they may be thought of as interchangeable, they are actually quite different. 

While there is a rich history of where the common use of curry powder blends originate, many stipulate that the spice mixes used today were first created by British colonizers brought back home and may have been based on the Indian spice blend garam masala. In any case, they are a large part of the popularity of these dishes around the world, and quite simple to make at home for your own dishes! 

Differences Between Curry Powder and Garam Masala

While both are spice blends, each contains different amounts of ingredients depending on flavor profile.

Garam Masala 

Garam masala may contain more pungent and stronger spice flavors including spices like: coriander, cumin seeds, green cardamoms, cloves, peppercorns, cinnamon, fennel seeds, nutmeg, star anise, black cardamoms, dried bay leaves and mace. 

Fun Fact: ‘Garam Masala’ is a Hindi word, which literally translates to ‘Hot Spices’ – masala spice mix, garam hot

Try your own homemade variety or pick up a convenient store-bought blend to make a Curry Cauliflower Buddha Rice Bowl that will wow you taste buds! 

Curry Powder 

This powder blend is a vibrant orange color and often has a base of coriander, turmeric, cumin, chili peppers with curry leaves, fenugreek, ginger, garlic, fennel, caraway, cinnamon, clove, mustard, nutmeg, black pepper.

Try your homemade or store-bought powder blend for warm and robust flavor in a simple Curry In a Hurry dish.

Video Recipe with Basmati Rice: Curry Cauliflower Buddha Rice Bowl

Bonus Foodie Curiosity: Similar Cooking Styles of India

There are subtle differences and nuances found within Indian food – and many depending on which region you’re in, but here are a few of them to spark your foodie curiosity. Some may look familiar and some may not but we can tell they’re all tasty and worth a try:

  • Biryani: This traditional dish of rice with meat and/or vegetables is found all over India, and every region has its own version.
  • Tandoori and Tikka: While these curries are very similar in flavor, the cooking methods are slightly different. Tandoori means that the food is cooked in a tandoor oven and commonly served more dry. Tikka is meat or a vegetarian alternative marinated in yogurt and spices and skewered before cooking.
  • Jalfrezi: Commonly served as a stir-fry, this dish is made with a red pepper-based sauce, other ingredients include sweet peppers, coconut, tomatoes and spices all cooked together. 
  • Madras: Madras is a region in southern Indian as well as a dish. Madras curry or Madras sauce is a red colored, hot curry sauce that uses chili powder. Yogurt is often used to counteract the heat of the curry sauce.
  • Vindaloo: This is a Portuguese inspired dish made from tomato, chili and cumin. It may just be the hottest item on the menu at many Indian restaurants. 

With the diversity of flavor and vibrant colors in every curry dish, the choice is yours of how you want to create your own. However, one thing is for sure, you’ll need a base of convenient Success® Rice to absorb all of those delicious flavors in every bite.