How well do you know your Indian curries?

Have you ever experienced looking at trays of Indian curry dishes and not knowing what they are exactly? Or going through the list of unfamiliar terms like matar, makhani and palak on your food delivery app while ordering from your favourite Indian restaurant without any idea which is mild or extra spicy? We totally understand your woes.

There are many kinds of Indian curries out there in different levels of spiciness, types of spices used, as well as its origins. Both Northern and Southern Indian cuisines are known for their curries but recipes from the South are generally spicier. The Southern Indian curries and dhal dishes however also have a more diluted, soupier consistency than its Northern counterparts. Then, there’s the Keralan curry that is generally creamier but lighter and fresher than the North Indian versions, as well as the Kashmiri curry that is hearty and less spicy thanks to the use of tomatoes, cardamom and other spices that are stewed over time into a curry consistency.

By just looking at them, you may find it hard to tell them apart because they simply look almost the same. Of course, there’s a slight difference in terms of colour, creaminess, ingredients and texture of the sauce. These lip-smacking curries go perfectly with long-grain rice or the various types of bread like chapati, puri and naan; they play an important part in giving you the satisfying punch of flavours quintessential to Indian cuisine — bright, bold nuances with the right amount of kick to your palate.

But one wrong move, you’ll end up with a mouthful of burning sensation that will leave you with a truly unpleasant experience. So allow us to give you some basic understanding of Indian curries and what you should know before ordering them at your favourite Indian restaurants near you. 

Featured image: Marvin Ozz / Pexels

Kashmiri Chicken Curry

This simple curry is packed with hearty flavours of tomatoes and spices like cardamom, ginger, cloves, cumin and coriander. It is cooked traditionally with larger pieces of meat — usually chicken — that is stewed under low heat to a curry-like consistency. Much like a stew, this curry is mildly spicy with a bright sweetness to finish.

Palak paneer is easily recognisable from its bright green colour. (Credit: Source)

Palak

Palak curries are generally made using spinach, milk, garlic and spices. The bright green colour is extremely pleasing to the eye, especially when cooked with chunks of paneer (cottage cheese) or aloo (potatoes). This northern-style dish is creamy and hearty and is one of the most common mildest curries you can find in any Indian restaurants.

Saag

Unlike palak, saag refers to the combination of spinach and mustard greens, lending a slightly bitter aftertaste depending on the leafy vegetables used. An extremely healthy dish, saag is usually cooked with potatoes or lentils as a vegetarian side dish, and sometimes with chicken as well.

Notice the bright hue of this chicken tikka masala. (Credit: Source)

Tikka Masala

Tikka Masala is arguably the most omnipresent dish to all Indian restaurants around the world — have you tried Chef Gaggan’s recipe? Tikka Masala is a combination of two elements — the tikka is basically boneless meat cooked in a tandoor on a skewer, while the masala is the savoury creamy sauce that envelops it. However, its spiciness varies depending on the cook of the masala gravy — counter with a squeeze of lime juice. 

Makhani

Makhani basically translates “with butter”, which is the similar recipe for the all-time favourite butter chicken. This mild and sweet curry is creamy and tasty, a great pairing with rice and bread. Dhal makhani is also another delicious vegan curry made of lentils, usually garnished with cream and chopped coriander.

Dhal makhani is a popular protein-packed vegetarian dish. (Credit: Source)

Korma

Korma curries are heavily spiced but not the fiery kind. The gravy is scented with flavours of cardamom, cinnamon, coconut milk and almonds — making it one of the mildest curries out there. Meat is generally marinated with yoghurt and cooked into the gravy with butter and cream to cook up a smooth sauce. Korma is best served with biryani rice

Rogan Josh

Another curry dish that hails from Kashmir is rogan josh, an authentic Indian lamb curry that’s distinguished by its thick red sauce and fall-off-the-bone meat. “Rogan” means red in Hindi or oil in Persian, while “josh” translates fiery or hot — this dish is all about cooking in an oil-based sauce with intense heat. But despite its bold red hue (thanks to the use of tomatoes), this curry is not particularly spicy and is a common dish in Northern India.

Lamb rogan josh is easily identified by big chunks of meat, usually cooked on the bone or as a whole lamb shank. (Credit: Source)

Karahi

This curry dish is typically cooked overnight over a slow fire in a wok-like pot, allowing the spices to marry beautifully with the meat. It is not overly spicy, usually served medium to mild, and has delicate umami and fresh taste thanks to the mix of garlic, ginger, red chillies and coriander. This North Indian recipe is a one-pot dish that you can cook in big batches and store for weeks in the fridge.

Jalfrezi

Jalfrezi is a no-nonsense fiery curry. This Anglo-Indian fusion dish is made using fragrant herbs and spices with the presence of green peppers, green chillies, coriander, onions and tomatoes. Typically cooked with chicken, jalfrezi is typically available in ready-to-cook sauce packets and makes a delicious crowd-pleasing dish for the family.

Chicken Vindalo (Credit: Piping Pot Curry)

Vindaloo

Originally from the Portuguese colony of Goa, vindaloo is a spicy Indian curry that’s cooked with meat that’s marinated in vinegar and spices. The dish is spicy and tangy, lending an irresistible appetising flavour to the palate. True to its Portuguese heritage, vindaloos can be made really fiery but can be toned down to suit your spice tolerance. Generally cooked with mutton and chicken, there are also vegan vindaloo dishes available in most Indian restaurants. 

Dhansak

Combining elements of Persian and Gujarati cuisine, dhansak curries can be cooked with meat or just vegetables. The presence of lentils in the dish add heartiness to this ‘sweet and sour’ curry — comfort food that can be enjoyed with rice or on its own. 

Martin Teo
Content Editor
Martin loves traveling the world to see ancient ruins and classical architecture. He enjoys the culinary experience of various cities but (still) refuses to eat anything insect-like. On a daily basis, he finds time hitting the gym to compensate for the amount of food he needs to eat just to write an article.