"I shall appear as the ex-cook of King Yudhishthira as I am well versed in the culinary art. I shall prepare King Virata's curries and shall supersede even those experts who used to make curries for him before."
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Curry is no single plant or seed or root. In the words of Norman Douglas, novelist extraordinaire of South Wind,
It dates back at least 4500 years ago--being found in excavations of the ancient cities of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro in what is now Pakistan. It probably achieved its full flower in southern Indian on the Malabar Coast of Kerala (see Salmon Rushdie's The Moor's Last Sigh!). Curry spices were mentioned in the Vedas, the sacred Hindu text--and the spice trade began to heat up as early as 700 BC, involving Arabs, Dravidians, and Phoenicians.
The first mention of curry itself was in the Mahabharata, an epic pooem written around 400 AD. When Bhima asks Yudhishthira how he'll disguise himself in King Virata's Kindgom, he says, "I shall appear as the ex-cook of King Yudhishthira as I am well versed in the culinary art. I shall prepare King Virata's curries and shall supersede even those experts who used to make curries for him before."
No one agrees on the derivation of the word (kari, Tamil for "sauce"?), but all cognoscenti agree that the yellow powder sold commercially in little glass or tin containers is a travesty.
Almost all also agree that that same yellow powder is JUST FINE for a lot of food preparations. In fact it does JUST FINE for all the soups in this collection.
But, for the record, this ancient, modern, and infinitely various combination of spices can be ground up of any of hundreds of ingredients--among which are: turmeric, cumin, saffron, fennel, black pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, allspice, cayenne, cloves, coriander, dill, mace, fenugreek, ginger, garlic, nutmeg, onion, and mustard seed.
Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama set up trade in Indian in 1502 after fighting the maharaja of Cochin into a deal. A fateful agreement, for the Portuguese were to forever change the nature of curry by introducing chile peppers into the mix--chiles not known to the Old World until Christopher Columbus brought them home from the New World in 1493.