What exactly is a curry?
The at once wonderful and confusing thing about India is that it has many, many languages and regional cultures. At school, we grew up reciting the Indian Pledge, which clearly states a true fact about me - I am proud of its rich and varied heritage.
Having moved away from my hometown of Pune, I realised for the very first time that there was immense love for India's rich heritage all over the world. However, there is a little bit of a gap in the market for the "varied" section of that statement.
I love curry. There are some delicious curries that I grew up with, which will become part of your lives ( because, as loyal followers, I'm actually recruiting you into a commune of people who love Indian food. Wasn't that obvious?) as much as they are mine.
The definition of curry is non-existent. In a broad sense, it is an anglicized version of the Tamil word "kari" which means a dish which has a sauce to it. I have heard it used as a way to describe any and all Indian food (and some Chinese food), and whilst it is a great way of answering that ever-popular question of "what's for dinner?" I feel as though it needs a little bit of explanation. Consider this my personal rant/opinion on why there is more to Indian food than curry.
I feel extremely fortunate and proud to come from a part of India that is multi-cultural, and also has influences from around the world. Pune has always been a busy student town, attracting people from all over the country to its many fantastic institutions. This has led to social businesses like bars, clubs, restaurants, and grocery shops offering a diverse range of food and ingredients. In more recent years, Pune has also become one of the leading technology cities in India and the world, being home to some of the biggest software and manufacturing companies. This brought an influx of young professionals, from home and abroad.
There is very little you can't find in Pune. And, while the suburbs and new parts of the city are popular haunts for this eclectic mix of cultures, there is a quiet, hidden part of the old city that has a pre-colonial and colonial charm.
How does this tell you anything about food nomenclature? Different settlers brought their food with them, and threw it into the melting pot of languages they spoke. The original local language of Marathi has branched out into a range of dialects, combining multiple languages - and in many ways throwing kadhis, gravies, amtis, curries, bhajis, and sabzis into one delicious concoction that is Indian food.
Curry is an English word derived from "kari", the Tamil word for a dish with a sauce to it. It has been adopted into the Indian food glossary of terms, but I know it to be used for very specific kinds of dishes.
Typically, a curry is runnier that the usual onion and tomato sauce, often made using coconut as a thickener, and has a smooth texture. It is often served as part of a bigger meal, mainly where there isn't a dal. The curry acts as the soaker-upper for rotis and the accompaniment to rice.
Egg Curry is one of those dishes that are a last minute decision, because it can be paired with a slice of bread, leftover roti, or steamed rice. If you have a lonesome naan in the freezer that never got used, bring it out and let it share the love. It is quick, easy, super tasty, and uses very few ingredients.
Predominantly a northern and western method of cooking, a kadhi is more like a broth which is flavoured with simple spices. It is most often thickened with chickpea flour, giving it a glossy, creamy texture. It is a simple dish, requiring only a handful of ingredients, and is often recommended to those nursing a delicate tummy.
Plain kadhi is often served with khichadi. It helps to break down the stodgy rice and lentils, but also tones down the heat if it is a bit much for some diners.
Amti is the Marathi word for a broth that is part of a vegetable dish. Maharashtrian food is famous for its strong flavours, and no-limit spice levels. There are very few dishes that have a thick sauce to them. The flavour is all in dry masalas that are ground fresh as part of the cooking process. As the dish cooks, water is added, which takes on the flavour of the masala, making amti. It is runny, and served alongside varan (dal) which is thicker in consistency, and sticky rice.
One of the dishes I miss most is Shengachi Amti - a simple dish made with drumsticks. As a child, this quirky vegetable played a regular part in many of my grandma's dishes, but the amti stands out as one of my favourites.
The word gravy is most commonly used for sauces in a meat based dish. Most Indians are vegetarian for majority of the week, reserving meat for Sundays. The meat dish becomes the star of the day, cooked slowly and often in its own juices, which creates a beautifully fragrant, flavourful gravy. Of all the terms we have discussed so far, gravy is the one I would use for the sauce in an Indian dish. For example, "Could I have some more gravy please? No chicken please, just the gravy." Makes complete sense to me!
My most favourite gravy is the Kolhapuri gravy. Such a perfect combination of 12-15 spices, all lifted to another level when cooked with chicken. It tastes just as good with aubergine, though, so it really is the Kolhapuri flavour that is simply special.
Sabzi or Bhaji:
Bhaji (elongated aa) is more commonly used for a vegetable side dish.
Bhaji (short, almost non-existent aa) is often used for for fritters or pakoras.
It's one of those words that has got lost in translation from the phonetic nature of Indian languages to the alphabetical English.
Sabzi or bhaji is the word for a vegetable side dish. Sabzi is the Hindi word for vegetables, and is similarly to the word curry is used to name a dish.
Batatyachi bhaji - potato sabzi - has to be my most cherished, simply because until I moved to the UK, I saw potatoes more as vegetables than as a carbohydrate. In my defence, it tastes phenomenal, and is a universal favourite.
So, there you have it. I may not have answered my original question, but you now have some information to distinguish between the delicacies that grace your plate when enjoying an Indian meal.
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