When most of us think of the word "curry", we picture colorful Indian dishes with a thick sauce. While the majority of the western world believes that the word curry refers to all Indian food, in India, it's a different story.
In India, there is a spice called curry leaves, a pan called the karahi, and about 5 dishes commonly called curry. These dishes include chicken curry, lamb curry, egg curry, fish curry, and kofta curry. All of the other Indian dishes that we think of as curries actually have their own unique names on the Indian subcontinent.
In this article, we will talk about what curry is and isn't in India, common misconceptions about curry, and the top curry and non-curry dishes you should try.
The Difference Between Curry Leaves, Curry Powder, and Curry
One of the major confusions that comes with the word "curry" is all the different meanings it can have. For example, because curry powder is called—well—curry powder one would assume that it is used to make curry, right? Unfortunately, no.
Curry powder is actually a British creation and is a combination of many different spices that were considered Indian-ish. While curry powder is often used in the west to give certain dishes some Indian flavor, it's never used in India. Instead, Indians use whole spices or specific spice mixtures the most common of which is garam masala.
Curry leaves are bright green leaves that give off a bitter and sweet flavor. Curry leaves are commonly used in certain Indian dishes but are not required to be added to a dish to make it curry. Many authentic Indian curries don"t list curry leaves as a required ingredient and when they are listed adding them is often optional.
Now let"s move on to Indian curry. Many westerners use the word curry to refer to all Indian food, however, the word "curry" was coined by the British to describe Indian dishes with a sauce or gravy.
In recent years, Indians have begun using the word "curry" like the English word "stew". There are many different types of stews just like there are many different types of curries, but not all soups are stews just like how not all Indian gravy dishes are curries.
Thailand -insights, no stress and amazing team
My husband and my Thailand trip was fantastic, stress-free and educational thanks to the amazing team coordinated by Albee at Asia Highlights. The whole team was incredibly accessible, responsive, sensitive to our needs and lovely to work with. End-to-end, the trip was truly remarkable and the knowledgeable and dynamic tour guides and drivers made it especially memorable!More
AndrewsFamily, Oct 2023
Informative & Thorough / Thanks Sharon!
Sharon the advisor that helped me was so thorough & informative and explained the details of the tour including questions about visas and what is included vs what is not included in the tour packages. I would recommend them to explain tour packages that would fit the schedule of your pending travels.More
Chris, Sep 2023
Easy, fast responses
I worked directly with Monica in Asia Highlights. She was incredibly helpful and answered all of my questions quickly. Working with her made the whole process easy and we are so excited for our trip!More
Diana B, Sep 2023
Stress free Thailand
Alisa has organised our 14 day Thailand holiday for 2024 for my family & I. She has been very accommodating & super quick with all of our requests & we cannot wait for a stress free holiday! Thank you Alisa!More
Alana Mitchell, Sep 2023
Family Trip to Thailand-Cambodia
All of our guides were very nice and knowledgeable, but we have a special mention to our guide in Cambodia, Chan, he was very kind with us and it was very amusing. He went the extra mile for us. We really enjoyed our holidays!More
José Antonio Carrillo de la Pl, Sep 2023
Asia Highlights and Sharon
Asia Highlights, specifically Sharon, has been wonderfully helpful as we get ready for a 2024 excursion to Thailand. We are beyond excited, and much of that has to do with the personalized attention that we have experienced with Sharon. She has been extremely responsive, obliging, and focused as she helped us design a tailor made itinerary. All of our questions have been addressed, our needs have been met, and the path has now been set for a very exciting trip.... thanks to Sharon.More
Marcy Hoenig, Sep 2023
I was planning a trip to Thailand to…
I was planning a trip to Thailand to especially see the Lantern Festival this year for our birthdays!! It’s been on our bucket list, but we were completely lost on how to go about planning for our trip. We’ve never really booked tours before but Alisa was extremely helpful, knowledgeable, flexible and efficient in providing all the information we needed to make our decision on the best tours and tickets to purchase. Thank you so much!!More
https://www.trustpilot.com/reviews/64d9a5a4657e4b39f768a21e, Aug 2023
I would definitely recommend Asia…
All of our guides were wonderful (Mr. Bank - Bangkok and Ms. Kai in Phuket & Khao Sok plus antoher guide who assisted in Koh Samui). Sharon took care of tours, private drivers, flights and hotels within Thailand and our trip went off without a hitch. The hotels were great and the transportation always arrived on time and with a clean,More
Guinevere Provance, Aug 2023
WOW! I’ve traveled Asia some & I must say Sharon & Asia Highlights made this trip so much more enjoyable and easyMore
Stephen Hollis, Aug 2023
Alisa has has been great to work with
Alisa with Asia Highlights has has been great to work with. Very friendly and responsive.More
Ana Rausch, Aug 2023
Using Sharon right now to book our…
Using Sharon right now to book our upcoming trip to Thailand. She has booked everything that we asked for. Has answered all of my inquiries, which has been many! Looking forward to having a great girls trip in ThailandMore
Tracy, Aug 2023
Thailand, Singapore, Bali
In Thailand, Tanny and Nori(Suparp), were both incredible! They were both fun, funny, and full of knowledge and made sure we got the full experience. They went the extra mile and always made sure we had cold bottled water and towels to cleanse our hands. In Singapore, Nicole was an absolute gem. She was so kind and knowledgeable and guided us in the right direction to make our day as enjoyable as possible. She helped us choose a top notch local lunch and coffee spot in China Town and taught us so much about the country! In Bali, Emon was an absolute joy. He was very knowledgeable and kind and absolutely made sure we were feeling comfortable and was willing to be flexible with us. He was fun to converse with and made our time traveling between destinations so enjoyable! I cannot recommend Asia Highlights enough! Accommodations, travel arrangements and guided tours were all a breeze.More
Cassi Thunker, Jul 2023
Very supportive ! I have received eticket for Sky Lattern Festival very fastMore
Chi?n Nguy?n Ng?c, Jul 2023
My experience in Chang Mai with Asia Highlights
I greatly enjoyed my experience with Asia Highlights for a trip I booked to Thailand.All of my interests were catered too. My guide in Chang Mai Gemma was excellent.I truly felt the soul of Thailand culture and Buddhism.More
Richard, Jul 2023
A pleasure to plan with
Well, this has been a painless and pleasurable process to find such a wonderful company. I had specific dates and places to be and Sharon worked with me diligently to refine the schedule and costs to suit my travel needs and budget. She informed me of a special tour on the dates I am to be in Thailand and I added that to my previous plans.More
Chris Williams, Jul 2023
Large multi-generational holiday in Thailand
The holiday was wonderful. Our guides, Mr Monchai (Bangkok), and Ms Tipagorn (Tippy) (Chiang Mai) were exceptional. Travelling in a large multigenerational group with many children requires patience and our guides truly understood that. Mr Monchai and Ms Tippy shared their extensive knowledge of the many wonderful places we visited, and were flexible to take us to additional places along the way based on discussions. While everyday was busy, having them greet us with patience and a smile truly made this a memorable holiday. The hotels we stayed at were equally wonderful and went above and beyond to celebrate not only my parents 50th anniversary but also celebrate 2 milestone birthdays that occurred. We will cherish this holiday for many years to come. We hope to use Asia Highlights again.More
CL, Jul 2023
I never used a travel agent in my life
I never used a travel agent in my life, but Sharon for Asia Highlights did a phenomenal job helping planning and coordination a family vacation. The best part of working with Sharon was that she maintained an open line of communication and provided answers to my question well within 12-24 hours. Additionally, Sharon was flexible and customized our vacation to my families needs. Overall great experience.More
Antione Barry, Jul 2023
Great company to plan a trip to Southeast Asia!
Sharon Haung has been wonderful to work with! Very patient and accommodating. Responds immediately given time change and is prepared, prompt, and professional.More
Debi Hinerfeld, Jul 2023
We took a 15 days trip (10 days Vietnam and 5 days Thailand …
It was an amazing experience the guides and drivers were there awaiting for us at each airoport for a transfer to the hotels also on time for all the tours all the guides were so lovely , very experienced and spoke very good English , one of the days on tour in Thailand I lost my phone in a temple in Bangkok mr chai went out of his way in a middle of thousands of visitors and managed to find an bring it back to me I found that amazing , also while on a trip I contacted Jason li out tour organizer few time via whatup and he replied and helped on the spot I recommend asiahilights 150% The quality of the service hotels the guides the drivers outstanding From start to finish ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT ????More
SIMO el ghobar, Jun 2023
Wonderful Guides and Experience
Our large group arrived in Bangkok with Tanni as our guide. She was wonderful! An absolute joy to spend time with. She is knowledgeable, kind, and extremely funny. I don’t know what we would have done without her! After Bangkok, we traveled to Chang Mai, where Indy was our tour guide. She was a delight! She is kind, knowledgeable, and so patient. Our trip to Thailand was an adventure of a lifetime and these two women helped make it memorable. I would definitely use Asia Highlights for any future travel in Asia.More
Jessica Bennett, Jun 2023
How Curry Got its Name
There are many stories about how the word "curry" came to represent all Indian dishes. Most of them start with the British who when they came to India had problems pronouncing many Indian words that were so different from their own language.
While 'curry' doesn't exist in Indian languages, there is a Tamil dish called kari which is a specific dish with a gravy sauce. It is possible that the British heard this word and started using it as a general description for Indian cooking without knowing its real meaning.
Some people also believe that the word curry comes from the word karahi which also sounds similar and is a type of two-handled pot that is used to make many North Indian dishes.
What is Curry
Although curry is not an Indian word, it has been more or less adopted by the Indian subcontinent with a similar meaning to the word "stew". Indians tend to only call a few very basic dishes curries such as chicken curry, fish curry, and egg curry. Other more complicated dishes are often called by their specific names.
Curry dishes usually start with a tomato and onion base to which spices like cumin, coriander, chili powder, turmeric, and sometimes garam masala are added. Most curry dishes are more watery and simple than other Indian gravy dishes and are more likely to have a milder flavor.
There is a large variety of curries and they are often made differently depending on the region. Every state or city in India may use slightly different ingredients in chicken curry. Fish curry is very popular in southern and western India with Kerala and Goa making their own distinct versions.
Egg curry is a very popular dish in Punjab where whole eggs are boiled then added to a tomato and onion gravy. Lamb curry is another favorite in North India.
5 Most Popular Indian Curries
Now that we've talked about what curry really is, let's take a look at some of India's top curries. These curries are broad categories of dishes and will include a lot of regional variation.
1. Chicken Curry
Chicken curry is a dish that is loved across India and is prepared in many different ways. Standard chicken curries are made from chicken stewed in onion and tomato sauce with ginger, garlic, chili peppers, and spices. In South India, they often add coconut and curry leaves to chicken curry.
One famous version of chicken curry comes from Maharastra in western India and includes coconut milk along with a spicier flavor. Most chicken curries are garnished with fresh coriander (cilantro) and then served with rice or a bread called roti.
2. Fish Curry
Fish curry is often eaten on the coastal regions of India. This dish is a staple in Goa where it is famous for its tangy and spicy flavor. Goan fish curry is usually made with white fish, incorporates both North Indian and South Indian ingredients, and is usually served with plain rice.
South Indian fish curry has a sweet and tangy flavor and is locally called meen kulambu. The tangy flavor in this curry comes from tamarind which is a common South Indian souring agent. Kerala fish curry is particularly famous with its creamy sweet coconut sauce and hot chilies.
Some fish curries are served with bones, so make sure to be careful when eating.
3. Egg Curry
Egg curry or anda curry is the most popular form of vegetarian curry. Most recipes for this dish come from North India and are particularly popular in Punjab. Often served with rice, this dish has a tomato and onion base and includes potatoes and boiled eggs.
In anda curry, the eggs are often boiled and served whole. Some recipes call for the boiled eggs to also be fried before being added into the sauce.
Like other curries, this dish will vary greatly from region to region and depending on where you try it, it may include ingredients like cashews, yogurt, and coconut milk, but the spices will typically stay the same.
4. Lamb Curry
Lamb curry or mutton curry is a classic North Indian dish that is also loved in Pakistan. This curry has an onion and tomato sauce and is cooked for long periods of time to bring out the flavors of the meat. This dish is often served with rice, but sometimes is thickened and served with a bread called chapati.
The most famous versions of lamb curry are served in Kashmir, West Bengal, and Odisha. In Odisha, the curry is always made with goat meat. In West Bengal, the dish is known as kosha mangsho and has a thicker gravy than other curries.
Another popular version of this dish is was created during the time of the British Raj and called railway mutton curry. This type of lamb curry was famously served on trains during the colonial era and included coconut milk and tamarind to extend its shelf life and give it a tangy flavor.
Railway mutton curry can be found at several restaurants throughout India including Oh! Calcutta! in West Bengal.
5. Vegetable Curry
Vegetable curry is just what it sounds like. An onion and tomato-based gravy with an assortment of vegetables.
Depending on where you go in India, vegetable curries can include a variety of different ingredients from potatoes and cauliflower to okra and green beans.
5 Most Popular Indian Dishes Often Mistaken for Curry
Now that we've talked about what is a curry in India, let's go over some other delicious gravy dishes that are often mistaken for curry. Whether you call these dishes curry or not, they are definitely worth tasting and are some of the most popular Indian food served aboard and in the country.
1. Chicken Tikka Masala
This delicious dish features marinated and barbecued chicken served in a hearty orange sauce. Chicken tikka masala is one of the most popular Indian dishes in the world but was actually invented in Scotland by a British-Pakistani chef.
The sauce of chicken tikka masala is made from yogurt, cream, and a blend of spices giving it it's irresistible creaminess and flavor. The best way to eat this dish is with a side of Indian bread. Naan or roti is a good choice.
2. Butter Chicken
On the global stage, butter chicken is probably the most famous Indian dish around. Well-known for its brilliant orange color, this dish hails from North India and contains tender pieces of chicken that are served in a creamy, buttery, and spicy sauce.
Butter chicken is often served with basmati rice and a side of mango chutney, or sauce, but can also be eaten with Indian bread. This dish is a great starting point for people who are trying Indian food for the first time as it is absolutely delicious and not too spicy.
Rajma is a popular vegetarian dish that consists of red kidney beans and a thick tomato sauce. Rajma has a light flavor compared to many other Indian dishes and includes spices like garlic, ginger, chili powder, and more.
Rajma is almost always served with rice as its thin consistency makes it difficult to eat with bread. This dish is very popular in North India and Nepal.
Chole is sometimes referred to as chickpea curry and is a beloved North Indian food that is commonly served at weddings. This dish originated in Uttar Pradesh and its main ingredient is the humble chickpea which is covered in a thick and spicy gravy.
This dish is often served drier than most curries and is eaten with bread, typically puris. Chole is easily found in most Indian restaurants and even at street food stalls.
Dal is a staple Indian dish that is made from lentils that are cooked until soft and mixed with spices. This dish is sometimes referred to as lentil curry, but most Indians will only call it dal.
There are three types of dal, black dal, yellow dal, and green dal. This staple dish is served with most meals in Indian homes and can be eaten with rice or bread.
In restaurants, you will often find dal makhani, which is a black lentil dish served with a thick savory gravy. This is a great dish to try for people who are new to Indian food because it's creamy, flavorful, and hard not to like.
Visit India with Asia Highlights
Asia Highlights welcomes the chance to help you design your perfect trip to India. Check out the following links to learn more about our tours and get a head start on planning your hassle-free vacation today!
Why Travel with Asia Highlights (98.8% positive customer reviews among 10,000+)
- Unique experiences tailored to your interests: Enjoy a premium trip that goes beyond the typical tourist attractions.
- Hassle-free travel and peace of mind: Every aspect of your trip will be carefully planned and organized by your 1:1 travel consultant.
- Experienced and knowledgeable guides: Your guides will be local and love to work for travelers' smiles.
- 7-Day India Golden Triangle Tour
- 8-Day Diwali Festival in India Golden Triangle Tour 2024
- 9-Day India Tiger Safari and Golden Triangle Tour
- 9-Day India Golden Triangle with Varanasi
- 11-Day India and Nepal Tour
- 11-Day India Holi Festival Tour 2024
- 14-Day Rajasthan Tour Package for Westerners
- 14-Day Romantic Honeymoon Trip in India
- 14-Day India, Nepal, and Bhutan Tour
- 2-Week Luxury India Tour
- 21-Day India, Nepal and Bhutan Tour
- India Itineraries 2024: from 5 Days to 1 Month
- 2 Weeks in India 2024/2025: Top 4 Itineraries
- How to Plan a Trip to India 2024/2025: 7 Easy Steps for You
- How to Plan an Awesome Family Trip to India in 2024
- Plan an Awesome Trip to India, Bhutan and Nepal (6 Tips)
- How to Plan an India and Nepal Trip 2024/2025
- How to Plan a Trip to India for Holi 2024
- A Complete Guide to Experiencing Diwali
- How Much Does a Trip to India Cost?
- Is India Safe to Travel? Women & Kids (Tips for 2023)
- Best (and Worst) Times to Visit India 2024, Rainy Season?
- Best Times to Visit the Taj Mahal？Expert Tips in 2024
- Weather in India in January: Is It a Good Time to Visit? Where to Go
- Weather in February in India: Cold and Warm!
- Weather in India in March: Good for Travel or Not?
- Weather in India in April: Temperatures and Where to Go
- Weather in May in India: a Good Time to Go?
- Weather in India in June: the Monsoon Begins — OK to Travel?
- Weather in July in India: Too Wet to Travel?
- August Weather in India: Still Rainy? (5 Places to Go)
- Weather in September in India: Rainy or Not?
- Weather in India in October: Best Time for Pleasant Weather
- Weather in India in November — Dry Season Travel
- Weather in India in December: 7 Best Places to Visit in India in December
Get Inspired with Some Popular Itineraries
At Asia Highlights, we create your kind of journey — your dates, your destinations, at your pace. You can have any trip tailor made for your travel.