As a food editor, if I were to pick a favorite dish of all time, I’d have to pick thousands. That’s how I land at curry. Thanks to my Indian heritage and the opportunity to travel all over the world for work, I can safely say that any dish that can be called curry—and there are in fact thousands of them—is my favorite thing to cook and eat.
I love curry for all the reasons I devoted my career to the study of food, how we eat it, and how we pass it along to each other. Owing to the ancient techniques and native ingredients of the Subcontinent, this extremely broad term for a warming dish generously seasoned with any number of the ground whole spices that go into curry spice blends can refer to an endless combination of finished products. Just the idea of that inspires and excites me.
East Asian food cultures have their own versions of curry, served not with long-grain basmati rice or flatbread as traditionally consumed in the land of its origin, but with the short-grain rice that’s a staple of their kitchens. Southeast Asian food cultures have their own curries, served with jasmine rice, rice or egg noodles, and thick slices of crusty bread. Curry is all over the African continent, with more variety and vibrance than it’s given credit for (seriously, eat more African curries, especially the peanut-based ones — you’ll never be disappointed). Chicken tikka masala, which certainly falls under the broad umbrella of this ubiquitous dish, is a purely British invention as well as England’s national dish. There is next to nowhere in the country you can travel where this beloved creamy spiced chicken in tomato sauce is unavailable fresh, frozen, or prepared. A spin on chicken curry—coronation chicken—was the signature dish at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, developed specially for the occasion by the head chef instructors at Le Cordon Bleu in London.
When I make curry, I have a lot of questions to ask myself. Chicken, fish, shrimp, egg, lamb, meatballs — what kind will I make this evening? Where in the world am I going tonight? Tomato or coconut based? Dry or in gravy? And what (besides cilantro, of course) will I put on top? Fried garlic chips? Indian mango pickle? A dollop of yogurt? A squeeze of fresh lime juice? A squiggle of sriracha? Nearly everything in my refrigerator, from pre-cut butternut squash (because sometimes you just don’t feel like peeling, butchering, and seeding a whole butternut squash — I’m human) to confit garlic, can be used in this dish. Absolutely everything in my pantry, from sardines to brown rice vermicelli, can be used in this dish.
Being able to share this dish with family and friends, especially the family and friends I’ve learned new variations and tricks from, reaffirms how I feel about food and food media, and reminds me that I’ve made the right choice in plunging the depths of the concept of cuisine. Curry is everywhere, loved by billions of people around the world. What better dish to call my own?