Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Curry part 1 - dry Malaysian curry

Thinking about curries

This is the time of year for spices. In summer, I avoid spice. It overpowers the garden flavors of summer vegetables and fresh herbs.

But when the weather starts to get cold, I hit the spice cabinet.

Last weekend, I did my annual spice cleaning and replacement. I noticed some spices that I had used very little -- fenugreek, turmeric, coriander. Those spices started me thinking about curry.

As much as I love curries, the word curry is troubling. It raises a lot of questions:

What is curry? Is it a blend of spices (or is that masala)? Or is it just a word for certain Asian sauces? If so, what is common to curry?

Is the word just a Western oversimplification of flavors we don't quite understand? Or is there really a category of food that is rightfully called curry?

I don't know the answers -- at least not yet. But I am going to try to find out.

Malaysian dry curry

Perhaps the best place to start thinking about curry is Malaysia.

Malaysian dry curries strike me as the essence of curry. The gritty curry you get on beef rendang looks like coarse spices resting in a small amount of oil. The flavor is full of intense spices, but not particularly hot spices. Malaysian curry tastes primitive; it tastes of-the-earth.

But the reality is a little more complicated than that.

At Banana Leaf in the Bellaire Chinatown, I ordered Banana Leaf Curry Chicken. The plate consists of hacked up chunks of bone-in, dark meat with a rendang-like sauce.

It is a dish that makes you focus on spice flavors. At one moment, the flavor is cardamom. Then ginger and garlic. And more than anything else, I taste the earthiness of cumin.

This curry looks like a simple mix of spices cooked in in oil. But it is more complex. The base is coconut meat -- an ingredient whose flavor I don't detect in the final sauce. But coconut meat may explain the gritty texture.

It also is not a simple dish. Malaysian curries are often cooked for a long time, sometimes hours.

The curry's personality

My theory is that every curry has a personality. Sometimes the personality reflects the culture. Sometimes it may not.

The personality of dry Malaysian curry is deceptively simple, basic, and masculine. Its texture is oily, gritty, primative. It changes from bite-to-bite as different spices step forward to assert themselves. Yet it is not a curry that allows any other flavor to dominate the raw earthiness of the spices. There is no sweet coconut here, no peppery heat -- just spice.

This is a curry that demands one thing: "The spice must flow."

Next: Japanese curry


HoustonWok said...

great post great photo. Believe it or not, I have not had the chance to check out Bananna Leaf.
Thanks for sharing

Anonymous said...

i'm so excited about your next series of posts. I love curry in all forms- you could spend a lifetime sampling all the complexities -

I'm a little sad that KL Malaysian/Malay Bistro shut down -otherwise you would have had the chance to taste curry laksa!

Anonymous said...

As a side note, there are various kinds of Malaysian curry - Chinese , Malay, Indian styles. Rendang is considered Malay, and is generally cooked with ground spices until completely dry. This results in the complex, gritty texture but also superbly tender meat.

The curry laksa mentioned by another poster, is considered Chinese style and is a thinner soup style used for noodles.

I love this series of Curry posts and pictures, and hope that you will explore the other Malaysian styles as well.

sex shop tienda said...

It will not really have success, I feel this way.


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