Food news: The world’s oldest curry proves this dish has always been delicious

Modern-day Indian curries have a similar origin story to Thai, in that the term ‘curry’ serves as a blanket term for a broad range of dishes from different parts of the country. Unlike the Thai case, though, India did not see a centralized effort led by the government to present their food to the outside world. Instead, food writer Mari Uyehara explains in Food & Wine, “The word curry was used by an imperialist power, Britain, to describe an array of dishes made by many different communities in another culture.” 

One of the great delights of traveling, or intercultural exchanges closer to home, is the chance to try other cuisines. And often, we’re not just looking for the tastiest dishes, but the most authentic ones as well. Archeological discoveries like the recent one in Óc Eo complicate straightforward distinctions of essentially Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, or any other cuisine. Instead, they demonstrate the way these delicious meals are still being shaped by the same forces that carried cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg all the way from Southwest to Southeast Asia—transcontinental trade and the resulting cultural exchanges.

That said, the spices found in the cooking implements at Óc Eo are very similar to those used today for the curries of that region (southern Vietnam). The only ingredient not present was chiles, which are native to the Americas and only arrived in Asia in the 16th century. This means that throughout centuries of trade, wars, and change, at least one thing has remained constant: Humans have found the combo of turmeric, galangal, ginger, and other spices to be especially delicious.

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