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A World of Curries: The Migration of Curries PDF Print E-mail
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A World of Curries: The Migration of Curries
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By Dave DeWitt



Nutty Curried Lamb
from Sind

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Ghurka Pork Curry

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Spiced and Baked Fish

Curries have never stayed in one place.  As a natural result of trade, migration, and foreign invaders, they first spread through India and then into the neighboring countries.  As they moved, changes in ingredients and methods of cooking were inevitable.

Moghuls and the British Raj

From the eighth through the sixteenth centuries A.D., India was subjected to a series of Muslim invasions. Turkish tribes swept through India from the west and the Moghuls invaded from the northwest and settled across most of northern India.  There were periodic Muslim kingdoms established in northern India, but it took until 1526 before Babur, a descendant of Genghis Khan, conquered the Punjab and declared himself to be the Emperor of India.  So began the Moghul rule of India, which lasted until the beginning of the nineteenth century.

During the sixteenth century, land routes across India began to connect the spice-growing south with northern India, Central Asia, Afganistan, Tibet, and Bhutan.  During the rule of Akbar (1556-1605), the greatest of the Moghul emperors, the cultivation of spices was encouraged all over India, and especially in Punjab, where mustard, ginger, poppy seed, sesame, turmeric, coriander, cumin, and chile peppers were grown.  Interestingly enough, despite the fact that Portuguese missionaries attended Akbar's court in Delhi, the Moghuls hardly knew of the Europeans' lucrative spice trade along the Malabar Coast.



Transport Carts Carrying Food and Spices, Pakistan




Akbar's prime minister, Abul-Fazl, in his book Ain-i-Akbari (1602), compiled a list of numerous dishes and the curry spices used in them; the book is notable for the first mention of chile peppers in Indian cookery. One of the favorite dishes of Akbar's court was a Mughlai curry called do-piyaza, or two onions, which combined four pounds of onions with twenty pounds of meat, seasoned with crushed red chiles, cumin, coriander, cardamom, cloves, and black pepper.





Meanwhile, further south, the British had watched with envy as both the Portuguese and the Dutch were growing rich from the spice trade in India and the Spice Islands.  The British East India Company was founded in London in 1599, with Queen Elizabeth of England granting the company the sole British right to trade with India.  The first Company ship, the Hector, arrived in India the following year, landing at Surat, north of Bombay.  The captain of the Hector, William Hawkins, searched the interior for jewels and spices, and was greeted at the Moghul court by the Emperor Jahangir, probably the world's most powerful and wealthy ruler.  Jahangir promptly made Hawkins a member of his court and presented him with the most beautiful woman in his harem.  He also signed a trade agreement with the British East India Company, which allowed the Company to establish trading depots near Bombay.  The British had finally established a toehold in India, and by 1626 they had trading centers on both coasts of India.

By 1800, the Company had taken the Malabar coast by force and also controlled Bengal and Madurai.  The British established "Spice Gardens " in what is now the state of Tamil Nadu in south India to encourage the cultivation of cinnamon and nutmeg in a more scientific manner.  They also introduced the cultivation of cloves into India.

Englishmen and women who were stationed in India in the early days of the Raj had no choice but to eat native foods because of the difficulty of obtaining British imports.  Jennifer Brennan, the author of Curries and Bugles, noted that: "The cooks were talented, mostly.  Goanese, Nepalese, Madrassi or Bengali, they had served long apprenticeships with a variety of families and were well used to the idiosyncracies of British tastes. [They] all could, naturally, produce a wide range of Indian food, accented by the regional tastes of their home provinces. "  Many of those regional tastes were curries.  "If any of my readers desire to make a real, good, Indian curry, get a Mohammedan woman to make one for you, " advised Harriet Tytler in her nineteenth century memoir, An Englishwoman in India.  She added: "Only warn her not to make it too hot, for the English traveler does not consider it good manners to weep over his meals, especially after just giving thanks for what one is about to receive. " 

The British may have looted India to a great extent, but they also did some good, especially with agriculture in the country, as India became the largest producer of spices in the world.  After satisfying the spice demand at home, the country now is second in the world in chile production (after China), it accounts for twenty percent of the world's black pepper, fifty percent of its dried ginger, ninety percent of its cardamom, plus copious amounts of turmeric, saffron, cumin, cloves, fenugreek, cinnamon, and fennel.


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