History of Chicken Curry

Here is our brief historical tour of how chicken curry came to be...

Which came first the Chicken or the curry?

Well before we can answer that I guess we need to look at the history of both. These are of course open to conjecture and opinion.

History of Chicken

Domestic chicken is descended from it's wild ancestor Red Junglefowl and was probably first domesticated in Asia around 8000 years ago. It is likely this was first in Thailand and that the bird was domesticated many times in many regions of South East Asia. They made it as far as the Indus valley by 2000BC and from there spread into Europe and Africa.

It's rapid spread and take up would have been due to two main factors, the ease of rearing and looking after the birds and the eating. By eating we mean not only the flavours but also the nutritional value provided. As I write this I can't actually think of anybody I know that does not like chicken, even most vegetarians who have eaten meat will say they liked it. Some may prefer the breast meat or the leg meat but nearly everyone loves chicken. Whereas I can bring to mind quite a few people that have a dislike of this or that other meat. So if you are catering for a larger group Chicken has to be the best bet.

There are of course many different breeds and quality of chicken. Welfare standards often affect the result ranging from the poorly treated battery hen up to something as well cared for as the famous poulet de bresse. It is always worth buying the best chicken you can afford but if all you can afford is the cheapest well, to be fair they still taste pretty good too.

History of curry

Many Spices have anti-bacterial properties and the use of spices may have originally been because of this in hot climates without modern refrigeration but no one can say for sure. Personally I think it was because they tasted so good! If we look into the history of curry, first I think we need to examine what it is that defines the term "curry". There are a lot of resources claiming the origins of the word including:

  • From the Tamil Kari
  • From the Hindi Karahi
  • From the Portuguese Caril. The Portuguese introduced chillis to India from the Americas.
  • From England dating back as far or further than Richard the first when there was a revolution in cooking and using many of the exotic spices we see today in Curries.
  • A book written in Richard the seconds reign ( 1377-1399 ) backs this up and was called 'The Forme of Cury'. Cury possibly being derived from the French Cuire meaning to cook.

Well, that's all pretty interesting stuff but I think we should look towards the modern day meaning which I believe is that a curry is any dish where the main ingredients are cooked in a spiced gravy or sauce. Though I am happy to hear from anyone who has a strongly held different opinion. So if we take that definition then any gravy or sauce with a spice of 1 or more kinds is effectively a curry then to see the earliest ever curry we need to find evidence of the first stew with a bit of spice in it. Spices have been found in Ancient Egyption tombs dating back to 3000BC and it is rumoured that 7000 years ago there was a healthy spice trade between India and Arabia and Egypt. Spices would have been very expensive and likely the province of the ruling elite. Now this seems to suggest that the first curries would have been made in some form around 7000 years ago. So it looks like the chicken came first!