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Oct 21, 2009 01:42 PM

Confused about curry (powder)

When making Chinese chicken, beef curry or Mei Fun, I've been using Indian curry powder, I wonder if there's a more Asian variety I should be using, maybe Viet or Japanese style? Many of my Chinese cookbooks recommend using a Madras style. Or is there actually a true Chinese curry powder? Can you recommend either a recipe or a brand?


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  1. "Curry" is simply a mixture of spices, often regional, and curries differ widely. Green curries are common in Asian dishes, the Middle Eastern curries are not the same. Even Middle Eastern curries differ from region to region. You might want to try shopping at cultural specific food stores and compare curries to broaden your exposure/experience with them.

    6 Replies
    1. re: todao

      I know what curry is and I understand about how they differ widely; curry traveled to China via India eons past and was adapted to suit Chinese cultural tastes, different blends for different cultures, etc.. I have green curry paste (Thai) but that doesn't work for Chinese-specific dishes. I've also used Japanese curry. My question was more is there a specific, albeit curry blend used in, regionally-speaking, Canton, for example? As I wrote, many of my Chinese cookbooks are vague about what type, calling it "curry powder," almost to imply a generic form. Is there more to this? I haven't shopped in NYC C-town for awhile but I don't remember any specific Chinese curry blends available, but they did carry Middle Eastern stuff.

      1. re: todao

        What are these middle eastern curries you speak of? I haven't heard the word 'curry' used to describe middle eastern dishes.

        In response to the OP: while I'm not certain, my guess is that a standard supermarket-style curry powder is probably similar to the curry powder used in Chinese cooking. Given that curry powders are mixtures of the usual spices one would use to make stereotypically Indian-tasting food, one would expect Chinese and Western curry powders to be pretty similar (since they are approximating the same thing).

        1. re: Scrofula

          I wasn't clear, not Middle Eastern curry powder but spices you would normally use to season; substitute the word stuff for the word spices.
          That said, I have seen some Middle Eastern recipes that are have the word curry in the name, but are not made with anything resembling curry powder, in the Indian sense.
          " Even Middle Eastern curries differ from region to region." -comment from Todao, see above.

          1. re: bushwickgirl

            Interesting. Do you happen to have a link to any of these middle eastern curries? I lived in the middle east for a while, and never encountered any local dishes that were referred to as curries. I did see Todao's post. I may be wrong, but he/she seems to be under the mistaken impression that India is in the middle east. :) (Todao, correct me if I'm misreading you.)

            Oh, and:
            "That said, I have seen some Middle Eastern recipes that are have the word curry in the name, but are not made with anything resembling curry powder, in the Indian sense."
            In the Indian sense, there's no such thing as curry powder. You'll never see it on the ingredients list in an actual Indian recipe.

            1. re: Scrofula

              "In the Indian sense, there's no such thing as curry powder."
              I understand that.

              "but are not made with anything resembling curry powder, in the Indian sense."
              I meant that the spices were not necessarily the same, or or there were some similar spices used (in the Middle Eastern recipes) as are used in India. I should have used the words "spices used," instead of "curry powder."

              Sorry for the unclear use of terminology. I've been bottle feeding kittens for the past two weeks and the lack of sleep is starting to catch up with me.
              I concur with your comment about Todao's impression. It is not mine, however.

              Now that this is cleared up, we were talking about the type of curry powder used in China, BTW. Any suggestions?

              1. re: bushwickgirl

                Maybe a southeast Asian brand, if you can find one? Wikipedia says that Chinese curries have a Singaporean and Malaysian influence. Or perhaps you could just throw some five-spice powder in with the curry powder, to give the dish a bit of Chinese flavor.

      2. todao is correct about the variability of curry powders. But the default of standard "Indian" style that you would commonly find would typically be a 'Madras' style. Not that there is any exact definition of what that is. The basics are similar: coriander, cumin, powdered chillies, turmeric... with infinite variations that include fenugreek, black cardamom, curry leaf, allspice... and so many more. Another characteristic one hears about "Madras" style is that it is browner and smokier than many other Indian curries.

        Probably the most important characteristic to look for is freshness -- and finding fresh pungent mixes can be a challenge. "Garam masala" is almost the same and is perhaps easier to find fresh in Indian markets. (Though plenty of those markets have really stale stock on the shelves!) It may not have a full load of chillies, leaving that the the chef's tastes. And it may not have ground curry leave, expecting that flavor to be added from simmered curry leaves.

        1 Reply
        1. re: BernalKC

          Well, thanks, and it seems from my further investigation that "Madras" style is the type that is, and I hesitate to say this, most commonly used in Chinese recipes.
          BTW, I make my own and use it for Indian and Chinese, if only for a lack of anything else:

          Makes about ¾ cup loose spice mixture
          ¼ cup coriander seeds
          2 tablespoons brown mustard seeds
          2 tablespoons ground turmeric
          1 tablespoon fenugreek seeds
          1 tablespoon cumin seeds
          1 tablespoon red chili flakes, or to taste
          2 teaspoons ground ginger
          2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
          2 teaspoons Tellicherry peppercorns
          1 teaspoon black cardamom seeds

          I toast the seeds before grinding. Stir well before grinding in a spice mill or clean coffee grinder as needed. I keep it in the freezer.

        2. Most Chinese grocery stores I see that Sun Brand Madras curry powder (gold and yellow rectangular can) on the shelves and I use it at home and gives that taste I've had at most Cantonese style restaurants. I also see it at Chinese cash and carry restaurant supply places. My mother used the same brand also.

          1 Reply
          1. re: monku

            Thanks, yes I've seen that brand. I'll give it a try and compare it to my own stuff.

            Thanks to all who posted.

          2. Almost all of my Chinese / East Asian cookbooks call for a Madras type curry powder for dishes like Kao Soi and Singapore Noodles.

            All of our local Asian markets have a section with several brands of “Madras” curry powders, both US and Asian. The only brand I have tried is quite a bit different from that made in India. Oddly enough, I can’t find my favorite green can “Ship Brand” of Indian Madras curry powder in the local Indian markets although it is sometimes available in our middle eastern markets.

            5 Replies
            1. re: OnkleWillie

              The Madras type was suggested in a few of my cookbooks. I'm just wondering if there's a more Asian variety of Madras-were you suggesting that "Ship Brand" was of that ilk?
              At this point, it's a matter of me getting to C-town and seeing what's available.
              Or maybe getting a book on curry (spice blends, paste, etc.) Any suggestions?

              1. re: bushwickgirl

                No, Ship Brand ‘Green Label’ Madras curry powder is an old line (estd. 1883) Indian export product. I’ve used this one for 25 or 30 years.

                The products sold in the Asian markets, like Sun Brand, usually just say Madras Curry Powder on the label and seem to come mostly from Los Angeles or Viet Nam. The only one I have tried (by Sing Kung of Arcadia, CA) only lists about half the ingredients shown on the Ship Brand can. That said, it seems to impart the desired curry punch to those Thai/Singapore dishes I’ve tried it in. It’s a little odd in that it comes with a handful of whole bay leaves stuffed into the jar.

                I usually make up a specific spice mixture for each major Indian dish I make but I just use canned curry powder for the other Asian dishes. The ingredients for my vindaloo paste are shown below. If it were me, I’d just pick a can of Madras CP and try it until you have the dishes perfected. You can tie up $ 20-25 for the ingredients. In my case I cook Indian about every other week so I go through them in short order.

                1 TSP BLACK PEPPERCORNS
                2 TSP CUMIN SEEDS
                2 TSP CORIANDER SEEDS
                1 TSP GREEN CARDAMOM SEEDS
                4 CLOVES
                1 TSP BLACK MUSTARD SEEDS
                1 TSP FENUGREEK SEEDS
                6 HONTAKA CHILIES

                1/2 TSP CINNAMON
                1 TSP TURMERIC
                1/2 TSP BROWN SUGAR
                1/2 TSP SALT
                3 TBS WHITE VINEGAR

                3 – 4 TBS OIL

                1. re: OnkleWillie

                  Are Hontaka chilies readily available in your area? I have no idea where to get them in NYC, Queens maybe, but I rarely go there. Perhaps I could substitute serranos. The vinegar is an interesting addition. I'm going to try this.
                  The homemade blend I use (see above) I think is a bit "off" for Asian, gonna get me some of that "generic" curry powder, LOL, with all due respect, of course.

                  1. re: bushwickgirl

                    Hontaka chilies are quite common, I saw them in every market I was in today. They are also called Jap chilies. Note that they are a small dried red chili - serranos would not be an acceptable substitute. Use cayenne pepper instead.

                    Vinegar is peculiar to vindaloo curry paste.

                    1. re: OnkleWillie

                      Thanks. I don't think I can find Japones up here either, I'll use cayenne.

            2. I have a jar of Jamaican curry powder that always reminds me of chinese curry dishes. Did you ever find the 'right' curry you were looking for?

              1 Reply
              1. re: joonjoon

                Yes, yes I did, I got the suggested Sun brand at my local big supermarket, and I also made my own mix from the formula I posted upthread. Thanks for asking. The Sun brand gives me the results I was looking for for Sinapore Chow Fun.

                I have a friend that has two types of West Indian curry powders, hot and mild, not labled clearly and I don't remember the brand name. They both smell fantastic, very aromatic, and you can't really tell that the hot one is hot, unless you taste it first, which I did not do, before recently making a big pot of West Indian style curry chicken. Needless to say, we all ate it with tears rolling down our cheeks. It was zippy stuff.