Curry Powder in India?
Excited, almost to the point of restlesness. I was going to get the really good stuff. Up until I made the trip to the local markets in Delhi, I was confident that this would be the easiest and quickest purchase.
Was my joy short-lived. But after several unsuccessful attempts to locate my “curry powder” and contending with the near flabbergasted expressions registered on the faces of people I asked about it, you cannot begin to imagine the depth of my relief when this nice middle aged lady, for a change appeared to be on the same wavelength.
Wait a minute. Did I hear you right? did you just say there is no such thing as the curry powder I just described to you?. Did I speak too fast? “What part of where can I find curry powder was lost in translation”
Stick a fork in me. I was done. At that moment, what I desired so badly was to be transported back to my kitchen, take a quick picture of my bottle of yellow curry powder, sitting pretty in my beechwood cabinet, and hey! for good measure bring the bottle along as tangible proof that I was not making this whole thing up.
Oh well, in the real world that I live in, it does not work that way.
Nothwithstanding our shameless “ambushing” her in the middle of the convenience store aisle, the lady was gracious enough to explain, “Curry” in India refers to a mix of spices such that they are all different because of the variety of ingredient combinations. Pheww!! Finally we were getting somewhere.
What is commonly referred to as a curry powder in India is Garam (hot) Masala (spice mix) which literally means a mixture of hot spices, whole or blended that are typically home made. It is the various permutations of the Garam Masala that gives these different curry powders their unique flavors, aroma with some hotter or milder than others.
But wait a minute, the Garam Masala was missing something. The vibrant yellow color charateristic of what I had come to know as curry.
The many colors of curry powder.
So what gives my “curry powder” its characteristically yellowish color? Trick question. Not. Saffron because of its coloring properties. Wrong!
Alrightee then. Enough of the annoying smart alec classmate tactics.
Was I in for an education? It is Turmeric and make no mistake based on their different properties, they are not substitutes.
Turmeric derives its name from the phrase “terra merita “ (Latin) meaning meritorious earth, referring to the color of ground turmeric which resembles a mineral pigment. Another lesson learned that Turmeric is also referred to as Indian Saffron (perhaps which explains my initial response) because of its vibrant yellow color. Similar in size, Turmeric is a cousin to ginger. It is a basic ingredient of most curry blends or mixes and is different from Saffron in taste which has more of a deep blood orange red color.
The yellow color and characteristic aroma of Turmeric comes from the cleaned rhizomes that are cooked in boiling water and dried. They are sold in this form or as a ground powder.
Turmeric is stored in pits measuring 18-20 feet deep for three to four years and have the added advantage that it hardens and matures while in storage.
Erode in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu has often been referred to as “Yellow City” or “Turmeric City because it is the world’s largest producer of turmeric.
The two major types named after the region of production are the orange-yellow flesh, Alleppey and the brighter lighter yellow, Madras.
Have any special curry recipes, or interesting tales of what seemed so simple and straightforward but turned out to be a great(er) learning experience even with all the twists and turns along the way?