George from Johannesburg, South Africa writes:
“Howzit Kurma! I attended one of your classes years ago when I was living in Durban. Here’s my question: In your class you mentioned briefly how the word curry was a made-up name. Can you elaborate please?”
Hello George. Yes, in actual fact, the word ‘curry’ is a misnomer, popularised and perpetuated by the British. There is no historical precedence to that name in classic Indian culinary culture before the 18th century. There’s a great deal of speculation and guess-work as to how the name ‘curry’ was first introduced.
Some sources explain: “The term curry could be possibly derived from ‘koora’ in the Telugu language, which means stew or gravy of any vegetable.”
Also: Curry leaves – (Murraya koenigii) are known as ‘Karuvapillai’, in the Tamil language, ‘karibevu’ in the Kannada, and ‘kariveppila’ in Malayalam.
Another theory: the root word for curry is ‘Kadhi’, which derives from the term ‘Kadhna’ meaning ‘to simmer’ or ‘Karahi’ denoting the cooking vessel used in Indian kitchens. And there is also the term ‘tarkari’ to denote a spiced vegetable stew.
It’s my guess that definitely the British just Anglicized words they heard and these words were the possible origins to the generic term ‘curry’.
Here’s a well-known example: Early British in India witnessed the awesomely massive wooden Chariots of the Jagannath festival rolling down the main road in the seaside Temple festival at Puri, and upon asking about them from locals, invented the word ‘Juggernaut’ to approximate how they heard the word ‘Jagannath’.
And another: the classic rice and lentil stew ‘Khicheri’ was enjoyed by the British during their sojourn during the Raj period. After the recipe returned to England, the British added fish, and it became ‘Kedgeree’. There are many more examples. Hope this helps.