Curry's global journey

 chicken curry

People have been enjoying delicious curries for millenia. Historians trace the dish to the Indian subcontinent as far back as 2500 B.C. The word curry itself emerged (depending on which theory you believe) as far back as 1390 in a British cookbook. Today you can find curry everywhere, even in an isolated country like North Korea. NPR's The Salt traces the route of curry from the Indian subcontinent to Japan to North Korea.

British colonialism led to interpretations of Indian curry dishes that were brought home to England in the 1700s. Hannah Glasse published a curry recipe in 1747 in The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy. It is considered the first recipe to use curry powder as a key ingredient.

The British introduced their version of curry to Imperial Japan "via the Anglo-Indian officers of the Royal Navy and other British subjects in the latter half of the 19th century. By the end of the century, the Japanese navy had adapted the British version of curry, just as the English had earlier Anglicized Indian curry." It quickly spread through the rest of Japan by the late 1800s.

Curry followed the former subjects of the Japanese Empire (Koreans, Taiwanese and Chinese) who were pressured by the Japanese to self-deport in the 1960s. During this period, "many Koreans in Japan considered North Korea a better option than the U.S.-backed Rhee government in South Korea. Curry followed tens of thousands of migrating Koreans to North Korea. Family who stayed behind in Japan sent tightly packed parcels crammed full of ready-made karē raisu to loved ones in North Korea."

Karē raisu became a matter of life or death to repatriated North Koreans who relied on the gifts from friends and family to survive the harsh conditions in their new  country. Some used it as currency, trading it for kimchi, rice, meat and other items, as well as favor from Korean officials. A few brave souls even opened black market curry stands, showing just how important a humble dish can become.

Photo of Ultimate chicken curry (Tamatar murghi) from Indian Cooking Unfolded by Raghavan Iyer

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