First of all, purists may cavil about the term ‘curry’ in the first place. There is no such word, they will argue. And they are right: the word seems to have been coined during the British Raj, but for sheer convenience, the word curry fits the bill.
Some curries are more famous than others. Butter Chicken is a prime example. Having been more or less invented in post-Partition Delhi, it checks all the boxes. It contains North India’s favourite bird, has a high umami component with plenty of tomato, the cream and/or butter adds richness. Though it was conceived in North India, it makes its appearance all over the country. Ditto for Dum Aloo – which could be made the Bengali way or the completely different Kashmiri Pandit way. Rogan Josh is another dish that is cooked in a myriad ways, yet finds its place on restaurant menus all over the country and beyond its shores too.
So it is a mighty puzzle about those that ‘got away’ so to speak. What about Pandhi Curry from Coorg? Why don’t more restaurants feature this classic preparation? Is it only because kachimpuli, the souring agent, akin to aceto balsamico, is not freely available? Then, how about sorpotel, the Goan pork preparation? Though traditionally toddy vinegar is used, today even Goans make do with substitutes. On the opposite side of the country, West Bengal has its superb Daab Chingri featuring prawns in tender coconut gravy, served in a coconut shell. Why doesn’t it feature on restaurant menus apart from the ethnic Bengali ones? Mangalorean cooking has a Chicken Ghee Roast that is slow-cooked in pure ghee and lashings of mild Kundapur chillies.
When regional Indian food is so rich with gems from several states, it is unforgivable that restaurant menus continue to labour under the butter chicken-paneer lababdar-dal makhni syndrome.