Curry is a dish that is enjoyed all around the world, with many cultures having their own unique take on this comforting, flavorful meal. The three most well-known types of curry are Japanese curry, Indian curry, and Thai curry. While the dishes share some common ingredients and cooking methods, they each have distinctive flavors, textures, and origins. Japanese curry was influenced by British curry brought to Japan in the late 19th century. It has a thick, gravy-like consistency and often contains potatoes, carrots, onions, and meat. Japanese curry relies on spices like turmeric, ginger, and garlic for its flavor profile. Indian curries originate from the intricate, complex curries of India. Indian curry pastes are made from blending various spices like coriander, cumin, chili peppers, cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom. Thai curries emerged from Thailand and often feature coconut milk, lemongrass, galangal, Thai basil, and fish sauce as primary ingredients. The curries have a balance of sweet, spicy, sour, and salty flavors. While the preparation and ingredients vary between the three, curries from Japan, India, and Thailand are beloved for their comforting, aromatic qualities. The unique flavors and textures reflect the diverse culinary heritages of each region.
Japanese curry was introduced to Japan in the late 19th century by the British. It has since become a beloved comfort food and one of the most popular dishes in Japan. Japanese curry features a thick stew-like curry sauce that is milder and sweeter than Indian or Thai curries. The sauce is made with curry powder, vegetables like onions, carrots and potatoes, and meats or fish. Some of the main ingredients in Japanese curry include:
Curry powder – A blend of spices like coriander, turmeric, cumin, fenugreek and chili peppers. Japanese curry powder is uniquely sweeter than Indian curry powders.
onions, carrots, potatoes – These vegetables are the foundation of the curry sauce and provide sweetness.
Meats – Beef, pork or chicken are commonly used. Ground meats are added to the curry sauce.
Fish – Popular proteins like tuna, salmon or cod can also be used instead of meats.
To make the sauce, the vegetables are sautéed and simmered together with the curry powder and meat or fish stock to meld the flavors. The cooked protein is then added into the sauce or served on top of rice. Regional variations of Japanese curry exist with different ingredients. In northern Honshu, apples and honey are added to the curry for sweetness. In southern Kyushu, it may be made spicier with extra peppers. Japanese curry is ubiquitous in Japan. It is served in many settings from casual curry shops to school cafeterias over rice, a beloved comfort food.
Indian curry refers to the dishes, gravies and sauces that use complex combinations of spices or herbs, usually including turmeric, cumin, coriander, ginger and garlic. Curry is not a single spice, but rather a blend of various spices. There are many regional variations of Indian curry, reflecting the diverse cultures and locally available ingredients across the country. Some main types include:
North Indian curries like tikka masala from Punjab, rogan josh from Kashmir, and butter chicken. They often use yogurt and cream.
South Indian curries like sambar from Tamil Nadu and coconut curries from Kerala. They feature lentils, tamarind and coconut milk.
Vindaloo from Goa, featuring vinegar, chili peppers and pork.
Curry leaves are used in dishes like chana masala and fish molee.
Some common proteins used in Indian curries are chicken, lamb, goat, fish and shrimp. The level of spiciness varies greatly. Mild korma and makhani curries use more cream and nuts to temper the spices, while vindaloo and phall curries can be intensely hot. The layered flavors and aromas of Indian curries come from freshly grinding and blending whole spices like coriander, cumin, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, turmeric, dried chilies, fenugreek and curry leaves. Slow-cooking the spices releases their essential oils and brings out complex tastes.
Thai curry pastes are made from a variety of fresh ingredients that can include chili peppers, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, galangal, shrimp paste, cumin, coriander seeds, and other spices. The type of curry and spiciness level varies by region. Some of the most common Thai curries are:
Red curry – Made with dried red chili peppers, this curry has a rich, spicy flavor. Common proteins include chicken, beef, and fish.
Green curry – Gets its color from fresh green chili peppers and herbs like cilantro and basil. It has a very aromatic flavor and is usually made with chicken or fish.
Yellow curry – Turmeric and other spices give this curry its golden hue. It is milder than other Thai curries and often contains potatoes and chicken.
Massaman curry – A rich, mildly spicy curry with influences from the Middle East. It contains cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, peanut and is often made with beef or chicken.
Thai curries can range from mildly spicy to very hot depending on the type and amount of chili peppers used. They tend to be soupier than Indian curries. Served with jasmine rice, Thai curries are meant to be spooned over the rice like a sauce or gravy.
The three types of curry have some distinct differences when it comes to main ingredients, spiciness levels, cooking process, and regional variations.
Japanese curry typically uses curry powder, meat/vegetables, and a roux made from flour and butter or oil. It has a smooth, gravy-like texture.
Indian curries use a complex blend of spices like coriander, turmeric, cumin, fenugreek, chili peppers, and garlic. They also use yogurt, coconut milk, or tomato puree as the curry base.
Thai curries rely on curry paste made from chilies, garlic, galangal, lemongrass, and other aromatics. They use coconut milk as the base and add meat or vegetables.
Japanese curry is mildly spicy and often sweetened. The spice comes from curry powder.
Indian curries can range from mildly spicy to very hot depending on the type and quantity of chili peppers used.
Thai curries are intensely spicy due to the liberal use of hot chilies in the curry paste. They can be adjusted to preference.
Japanese curry is made by sautéing onions and meat/veg, making a roux, adding water and cubes, and simmering.
Indian curries start with blooming spices in oil, adding the base and meat/veg, and simmering until done.
Thai curries involve making the curry paste first, then sautéing it in oil before adding coconut milk and meat/veg.