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Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors [Paperback]

Lizzie Collingham
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
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Book Description

6 July 2006

This imaginative book tells the history of India and its rulers through their food. It follows the story of curry as it spread from the courts of Delhi to the balti houses of Birmingham.

Curry is the product of India's long history of invasion. In the wake of the Mughal conquerors, an army of cooks brought Persian recipes to northern India; in the south, Portugese spice merchants introduced vinegar marinades and the chillies they had recently discovered in the New World; the British soon followed, with their passion for roast meat accompanied by cauliflowers and beans. When these new ingredients were mixed with native spices, they produced those disinctly Inidan dishes.

Curry tells the story of an array of familar Indian dishes and the people who invented, discovered, cooked and ate them. Teeming with colourful characters, rich in anecdote and meticulously researched, Curry is vivid, entertaining and delicious.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New Ed edition (6 July 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099437864
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099437864
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 81,477 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

There has certainly been a seismic change in recent writing on food, as Lizzie Collingham's Curry: The Biography divertingly proves. The subject here is nothing less than the history of India and its rulers, as told through the history of their signature food. Of course, the national food of India is now (by default) one of the national foods of the United Kingdom, and its all-conquering progress from the gilded palaces of Delhi to the curry houses of Brick Lane and Birmingham makes for highly entertaining reading.

We have had many cookery books before on how to prepare the mouth-watering Indian delights described here, but few have taken such a broad view as Collingham, who (while telling us how to prepare Dhansak or Lamb Korma), also apprises the reader of the individuals who discovered, cooked and presented these dishes originally (along with the lucky recipients, often in the upper echelons of Indian society).

In many ways, the rich host of anecdotes here is the single factor that distinguishes the book from so many similar titles. Collingham is a historian of some reputation, but her love of this food fairly leaps from the page. Be warned, however: you may begin this book in a spirit of historical curiosity, but by the end of it, you'll either be making your way to the local curry house, or to the nearest supermarket to stock up on turmeric, coriander and mango chutney. --Barry Forshaw --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Marvellous and well-illustrated...based on exhaustive research and full of intriguing nuggets of information" (Chandak Sengoopta Independent)

"A beautifully balanced book, melding historical fact with modern anecdotes... It's the definitive history of curry" (Mail on Sunday)

"Fascinating and meticulously researched... layers historical fact with mouth-watering dinner table gossip of maharajah's epicurean excesses" (Meera Syal The Times)

"Original and highly entertaining" (Daily Mail)

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hot stuff 10 Jan 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
"Curry - A tale of cooks and conquerors" traces the origins of Indian cuisine from the Mughal courts through British and Portuguese colonial rule to the present day. While Chicken Tikka Massala is now the national dish of the UK, India itself is finally embracing its regional styles of cookery and a true national cuisine is emerging, fueled by the popularity of TV chefs such as Madhur Jaffrey.

This well-researched book is a joy to read, packed with recipes and interesting facts. Did you know that not only do most of the UK's Indian restaurant owners originate from Bangladesh, but that they come from a single small town where ships' captains traditionally recruited low-paid boiler room crew for their steamships? Or that many Indian cafés serve tea in disposable earthenware cups that are smashed on the floor after use to avoid the danger of sharing a cup with someone belonging to another caste or religion? And that far from curry being a means of disguising tainted meat and recycling leftovers (as the British myth would have it), many Indians are vegetarian and regard leftovers as unclean; and that in India meat and poultry are actually consumed freshly-slaughtered and never hung, as in the UK?

This is the best book that I have read in a long time and it was great fun to try the recipes as I went. This is an absolute must for anyone who likes curry and is interested in where their food comes from.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Delicious 16 Aug 2005
By A Customer
A mouth watering, fascinating read that will keep you entertained until the last page. After-pub curries will not be the same again as friends compete to supply the details and history of the dishes they are sampling!
A very attractive book which you want to pick off the shelf and handle, the pictures and photos are colourful, appealing and the layout and design attractive. I thoroughly enjoyed it and learnt a lot too. My Christmas present problems are solved for this year as all my friends will be receiving this and I hope someone will buy it for me as I've already lent out my copy and it hasn't yet been returned.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A very tasty read 25 Aug 2006
I enjoyed this book a lot - it's easy to read and packed with fascinating stories.

However, I do feel it suffers a little from an occasional lack of thoroughness. For example, 'phal' is mentioned twice in the text but on neither occasion is there any explantion of what what a phal curry is, other than that it is hotter than vindaloo, or where it comes from (it is a UK invention).

A passing mention that the Prince Regent enjoyed being 'shampooed' misses an interesting aside - the word 'shampoo' derives from Hindi.

And I wonder slightly when the last time was that the author visited India, as she claims that chai is served in earthenware cups - sadly, this practice is fast-disappearing and you are much more likely to be served it in disposable plastic cups (in my experience at least).

But these are very minor points, and I would defnitely recommend this book to anyone who loves 'curry'.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A great read 20 Jun 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A fanstastic and comprehensive story about the history and origins of our Nation's favourite food. Some facts will surprise you!
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4.0 out of 5 stars Not a recipe book 13 Nov 2013
Format:Kindle Edition
As Someone who enjoys all things curry, eating it, cooking it and writing about it, see my blog


I have to say it is unusual to find a book such as this that focuses primarily on the history of the how and the why curry came to be called curry, and the international influences that made it what we all love today. Some fantastic stories and some really good history too, all supported with referencing that demonstrates lots of research and hours spent pouring over everything Indian
This is not a recipe book and the recipes that do appear are there as a reference point rather than something that you would wish to use to cook from.

I liked this book very much it is well written by someone who clearly knows their subject and I learnt a lot it and is a must have I would say for anyone that wishes to appreciate that great tradition behind the myriad of dishes that the world now calls Curry.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A very interesting book 18 Dec 2006
By 101
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
about the history of curry and its influences from adventurers and invaders and how in turn it has influenced the food around the world.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Essential 13 Aug 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
An essential read if you like curry and history. Well-written and enjoyable.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Serialised in the Sunday Times? 20 Oct 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is just the kind of book that's serialised in the Sunday Times.

A potted history of India following the development of its culture and cuisine, hilariously brief in many parts.

Rather than being a history of Indian cooking, it is more a history of the inrtoduction of Indian cuisine in English culture and the acceptance and development of Indian restaurant in England.

Yes, the author does look into the evolution of the various schools of gastronomy in India, but it is all leading up to the focus on England and it's food culture. In all fairness the many interesting vignettes she comes up with, are quite interesting, but a history it is not.

The recipes are interesting and I am sure to try them.

Do not read this, expecting a serious history of Indian food.
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