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Curry Favor

A world of flavors in Charlotte

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The word gravy just doesn't have the same pizzazz as the word curry. Curry is exotic. Gravy goes on mashed potatoes. Nevertheless the Tamil word kari means gravy, or sauce. In India, a curry is actually any dish made with a sauce. So Chicken Tikka Masala is a curry. Curry powder, on the other hand, is an altogether different animal. In India, curry powder is made daily per family recipe, which typically pulverizes 20-plus spices, herbs, and seeds together, typically including coriander, cumin, cardamom, and turmeric. Prepackaged curry powder is the basis for most curries in the Anglo world.

A variety of curries can be found around the globe, typically in places the British colonized or countries with large Indian ex-pat populations such as in South Africa. Not all curries are seasonally hot. India, for example, has both hot vindaloo curries and mild kormas.

Thai curries are very different. The base for these curries begins with lemongrass, shallots, garlic, and onion, and ends with coconut milk, Kiffir lime leaves, and basil. Chilies determine the color: yellow, green and red. Coconut milk is also used as the base in Malaysia and Indonesia curries.

Finding a curry to suit your palate is, well, a matter of taste. But you might begin your global exploration at these places:

From the Caribbean:

Austin's Caribbean Cuisine (345 South Kings Drive, 704-331-8778) is a take-out only place that offers curried chicken, shrimp, or goat served over rice and peas (beans). Small Chicken $5.75, large $7; Small goat $7, large $9. Shrimp on Friday only.

From Thailand:

The King and I Restaurant, Cuisine of Thailand (4800 Central Avenue, 704-532-7511). I go for the Panang ($11) curry or the Gaeng Ped (curry duck) ($12), which is certifiably addictive with succulent morsels of duck, slivers of ginger, holy basil, and bits of pineapple in a coconut milk-based curry sauce.

From India:

Situl Indian Restaurant (540 Brandywine Road behind Park Road Shopping Center, 704-523-0037). Here it's the Chicken Tikka Masala ($11.95) in a creamy tomato sauce with fresh herbs and ground spices that reigns supreme. Situl's rendition is a well-executed standard with meltingly soft chunks of chicken encased in thickened velvety mild sauce.

On the hot side is the Phall Vindaloo ($14) made with green chilies and lamb found at Bombay Cuisine (230 East W.T. Harris Blvd, 704- 549-8300). Vindaloo was originally a dish brought from Portugal to Goa, but once in Asia the sauce received a healthy dose of chilies and spice. Typically Vindaloos have cumin, red chilies, cardamom, cinnamon, black mustard seeds, and fenugreek seeds.

From Malaysia:

Cuisine Malaya, Malaysian Cuisine and Japanese Sushi Bar (1411 Elizabeth Ave.704-372-0766). The best curry here is the appetizer Roti Canai, which is a large flat Indian pancake accompanied with a savory curry dipping sauce. ($3.95)

Strictly Vegetarian:

The Peaceful Dragon (12610 Steele Creek Road, 704-504-8866). Chef Geoff Bragg serves an outrageously flavorful Thai "Chicken" Curry ($12.50) made with tofu simmered in a red curry sauce and served with steamed brown rice.

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