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Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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curry a term adopted into the English language from India, has changed its meaning in migrating and has become ubiquitous as a menu word. It now denotes various kinds of dish in numerous different parts of the world; but all are savoury, and all spiced.

The Tamil word kari is the starting point. It means a spiced sauce, one of the sorts of dressing taken in S. India with rice, and soupy in consistency. Different words in Tamil refer to stewlike dressings (meat, fish, poultry, vegetables, in small quantities) and to ‘dry’ dressings. Europeans, however, fastened on the word kari and took it to mean any of these dressings. Hobson-Jobson (1903; Yule and Burnell, 1979), who gives the fullest (and most entertaining, but in some respects confused) account of the term’s history up to the beginning of the 20th century, observes that the Portuguese took over the word in this manner, and cites evidence that a recipe for karil appeared in a 17th-century Portguese cookery book, probably reflecting a practice which had begun in the 16th century.