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On Wednesday evening we had a Curry cooking class titled, from Mumbai to Delhi, explaining the regional differences between curries from one part of India to the next. (If you missed out, we have a repeat of this class on 26 November.)

Curry is indeed a generic term that especially the Western world uses to refer to a wide variety of dishes with primarily Asian origin. Most of these dishes use a variety of spices and herbs which often includes fresh or dried chillies.

Curry spices being tempered

Curry spices being tempered

Traditionally in the making of a curry (pronounced /ˈkʌri/, plural curries), the recipe for the combination of spices is very regional and depends on the cultural traditions, religion and even family preference. Dishes are named according to their ingredients, the spices used and the various cooking methods.

Spices are used whole and grounded, cooked or raw and are added at different times during the cooking process, resulting in different tastes. Curries can be made with red meat, poultry, fish and shellfish or can be vegetarian.

Curries are further described as either “wet” or “dry”. Wet curries are based on a sauce or gravy made from for example yoghurt, coconut milk or stock while dry curries are not cooked with a lot of liquid leaving the ingredients with a coat of spices.

With regard to origin, we can refer to curries from the following regions:

  • South Asia (which includes India)
  • Other Asian (which includes China, Japan, Thailand)
  • West Indies
  • Britain
  • South Africa

Let’s have a look at South African curry.

In South Africa curry also varies from one region to another and the best-known styles are the African Curry, the Cape Malay Curry, Natal Curry and Durban Curry. The history of South African curries goes back to 250 years ago when the first Indians arrived in Natal. Today still KwaZulu-Natal has the largest Indian population outside of India and no surprise then that Natal Curries have been established as a traditional South African food type.

Natal curries are mainly based on dishes from South India consisting of simple lamb and chicken curries as well as elaborate curries such as the chicken and prawn curry which has become a Natal favourite.

The Cape Malay style of curry is quite different from the Natal curries as it contains less chilli and has a sweeter element to it. Traditionally you will find this specific style of curry in the Bo-Kaap, a suburb of Cape Town.

The Cape Malay people arrived in the Cape from Indonesia in the Mid to late 1600′s and today still their food forms an important part of South African cuisine, especially the cuisine of the Western Cape and Winelands. Dishes such as sosaties and samosas are typical examples.



Curry in a hurry

Some famous South African variations on traditional curries are the Bunny Chow and Roti Roll.

The Bunny Chow consists of either a lamb, chicken or bean curry poured into a tunnelled out loaf of bread to be eaten with one’s fingers.

Bunny Chow

Bunny Chow

The Roti Roll is also a classic takeaway curry that could either be a curry in a very flat roti bread (similar to a kebab bread) or the classic “Chip, Cheese and Curry” roll which basically consists of fried chips with melted cheese and the gravy of your favourite curry rolled into a roti roll.

Roti Roll

Roti Roll

When it comes to pairing a wine with your favourite curry, things can get really tricky. Recently food and wine matcher  par excellence, Fiona Beckett wrote the following:

“What wine to drink with curry – my top 5 picks

If you’re wondering which wine to pair with curry, you’re not alone. There are probably more opinions about the matter than there are types of curry from “wine is never a good idea” to “any wine you like”.

There are three things I’d bear in mind:

* How hot the curry is. Clearly, it’s easier to match wine with a mild curry than a searingly hot one.

* How many other dishes you’re serving and how hot they are. It’s easier, in other words, to think about a wine that will go with the whole meal rather than one element of it.

* and what type of curry you’re talking about – Thai and Malay curries, for example, are different from Indian curries with their warmer spices. And home-made curries tend to be hotter and pokier than shop-bought ones or ones made from a bought curry sauce.

What you need with curry – and this is why cold lager and lassi work so well – is a refreshing contrast to the heat of the food. A touch of sweetness helps, particularly with hotter curries and green curries as does a fresh, palate-cleansing acidity.

What doesn’t work so well – in my opinion at least – is tannin and high alcohol which can emphasise and unbalance the spice in a curry. So although ripe fruity reds can work – especially with meaty curries like rogan josh – you don’t really want a 15% oaky monster.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that many Indian restaurants don’t have brilliant wine lists so it’s a question of what will work best rather than what’s ideal. Here are 5 good all-rounders that I think do the job.

A fruity rosé

This style of wine has consistently come out best in the tastings I’ve done for the What Food, What Wine? competition over the past couple of years. Make it a strong fruity style, not a wimpy one though so think Spain, Portugal or South America rather than Provence.

Off-dry riesling

Certainly with chicken, fish and vegetable curries, if not with very meaty ones or ones with a powerful tomato sauce. German, Austrian, Australian and New Zealand rieslings would all do the trick.

Pinot Gris

This speciality of Alsace – also found in New Zealand and Oregon – has a particular affinity with Thai green curries but pairs well with mild to medium-hot Indian curries too

Other aromatic whites

Such as fragrant Hungarian whites (the Spice Trail white is good), dry Muscat, Sylvaner/Silvaner and Torrontes from Argentina


Yes, chardonnay! Particularly fruity styles or blends with grapes such as semillon, chenin and colombard. Good with mild, creamy or buttery curries, especially with chicken. (Viognier is good with this sort of curry too.)

And if I were to pick a red...?

I’ll probably go for a juicy, fruity but not too oaky Shiraz or a Chilean Carmenère (similar to a Merlot which would also work well). Pinotage is surprisingly good match with hotter curries and rioja crianza or reserva for rogan josh.

Incidentally, you may find Gewurztraminer an odd omission from my top 5 as it’s often paired with curry but it can easily overpower milder curries. Great with a spicy duck curry though.”


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