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A rectangular tin of with ornate lettering and curry powder spilling out the top.
Now made in America, this curry powder was first manufactured in 1876 by Merwanjee Poonjiajee & Sons in India.
Robert Sietsema/Eater

12 Compelling Curry Dishes in NYC

Critic Robert Sietsema offers some of his favorites from three boroughs, two states, and four continents

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Now made in America, this curry powder was first manufactured in 1876 by Merwanjee Poonjiajee & Sons in India.
| Robert Sietsema/Eater

Curry is one of the world’s most compelling culinary concepts, as both a noun and a verb. While the complex and flexible spice mixture originated in India, it has gradually become much bigger than a single subcontinent, carried by the diaspora of Indian immigrants and indentured servants, but also broadcast by British colonialism, and thus becoming a concept with rich and mixed meanings.

The word itself appears to have had its genesis outside of India, at least in part. In medieval England, the word “cury” merely meant to cook. In fact, when a collection of regal recipes was written for the 14th-century court of King Richard II, it was called The Forme of Cury. How the term picked up an extra R and came to have its present meaning is a tale worth telling.

As the story goes (I’m synopsizing several accounts here and adding my own inferences), 18th-century British colonial military officers set to return home asked their Indian associates, “What is that marvelous spice you put in all your dishes?” The truth was that it wasn’t one spice, but innumerable complex spice combinations known as masalas. But spice merchants were glad to comply, and threw together a powdered mix of a dozen or so spices, often containing cumin, coriander, fenugreek, cinnamon, clove, and cardamom, with turmeric imparting an earthiness and a distinctly yellowish color.

How this mix came to be called curry remains a question for the etymologists, though one theory is that the Tamil word kari, designating a leaf prominent in Indian cooking, may have been misheard, or otherwise transformed into curry. However it happened, the curry powder brought back to England had an explosive impact on a nation that had long been remote from spice routes, where onion remained the most common flavoring and black peppercorns were historically considered a precious substance. For some modern commentators, curry powder has come to symbolize colonialism.

The first English-language recipe calling for curry powder appeared in 1747, and the spice mixture was quickly incorporated into English cookery. But curry powder didn’t stop there. It soon spread to other European countries, and from there it was carried all over the world. It was considered a British product, but in many ways remained fundamentally Indian. While most dishes called curries utilized curry powder, the word itself came to designate spicy stews featuring combinations of flavorings, such as in Thailand, where most curries, more properly called kaeng, are free of curry powder.

Taking curry by its broadest definition, here are some of my favorite examples from all over the New York City region, many of them with spice blends far afield from the one described above.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.
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Goat curry at Good Vibes

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Central Harlem newcomer Good Vibes tenders one of the city’s best Jamaican goat curries, with lots of meat in big chunks, far less bony than most. In case you haven’t tried it, goat is more richly flavored than beef or lamb, with a taste you can’t forget. Shown here is the medium-size serving (small and large are also available). It arrives in its aluminum carryout container bedded on a generous serving of rice and peas, and don’t forget to ask that extra gravy be poured over the rice and peas.

Lots of big chunks of brown meat with a hollow bone here and there alongside a serving of rice and beans with gravy partly obscuring it. Robert Sietsema/Eater

Currywurst at Schaller & Weber's Stube

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The fabled German currywurst was invented in Hamburg right after World War II, proving that curry continues to travel. The story is recounted in Uwe Timm’s highly recommended novella, The Invention of Curried Sausage. German currywurst has been made available at several places around town in the last decade. The version at Schaller & Weber’s Upper East Side Stube is made by cutting up a knockwurst, depositing it in a pretzel bun, and then smothering it in curry ketchup with additional curry powder added. This is a real gutbomb; delicious, but don’t try to eat two.

A linear brown pretzel bun with a curry smothered sausage beside it in a white takeout container. Robert Sietsema/Eater

Sausage curry at Go! Go! Curry

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Yes, the British Navy probably brought curry to the Japanese in the 19th century, but the Japanese mutated the hell out of it, using the powder as the starting point for a thick, sweet, relentlessly brown gravy that often contains disparate ingredients like apples and Worcestershire sauce. It can be delivered at a variety of heat levels at this homegrown Japanese curry chain, and you can drop a number of main ingredients into it, the most popular of which is a pork katsu cutlet. My favorite, however, is the Kurobuta sausages made from heirloom pigs, which add a smoky vector to the curry. Shredded cabbage is served on the side as a foil to powerful flavors.

Three brown sausages in a brown gravy with white rice on the side. Robert Sietsema/Eater

Duck panang curry at Ayada

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Panang curry supposedly originated in Central Thailand, where many dishes called curries were first formulated, though made from spice pastes containing fresh herbs rather than powders. This one from Elmhurst Thai mainstay Ayada is colorful and spicy, and the classic sauce often contains peanuts, dried red chiles, and sometimes even carrots, all contributing to the lurid color. This great dish deposits thick slices of roast duck in the curry; the dark flavor of the bird contrasts with the brightness of the sauce. Make sure you eat it with sticky rice, as is traditional.

Slices of skin on duck standing up in a bright orange sauce that floods the plate. Robert Sietsema/Eater

Malabar fish curry at Taste of Cochin

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Now known as Kochi, Cochin is a city on the Malabar Coast in the state of Kerala, where the diet abounds in seafood and coconut milk. Taste of Cochin is a restaurant in far eastern Bellerose, Queens, which is one of the first neighborhoods where the cuisines of southern Indian debuted in New York City. Malabar fish curry features snowy white fillets in a sauce laced with coconut milk and turmeric, among other spices, and the red chile garnish warns of its spiciness.

A yellowish fish curry with a pair of dried red peppers sprouting from the top. Gary He

Spiral curry puffs at Laut Singapura

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It’s common to find curry puffs on Thai menus around town as an appetizer — little, deeply browned empanadas with a braided spine and curried potato filling. This Singaporean restaurant in the Flatiron District offers a gussied-up version of the dish, which may have evolved from a fritter brought to Southeast Asia centuries earlier by Dutch colonialists. Its rendition features a pastry rolled into a spiral before being folded into a turnover, and the potato filling is sharper tasting than usual.

A pair of half moon hand pies with a curious spiral appearance to the dough. Robert Sietsema/Eater

Maniac egg curry at Egg Mania

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This Jersey City restaurant with Gujarati leanings specializes in chicken ova, and mounts a massive menu with dozens of choices — boiled, scrambled, and poached. The one called maniac egg curry features broken boiled eggs in a spicy tomato sauce, served with a Mumbai flourish: chopped raw onions and slices of toasted white bread. I’d eat this for breakfast every day.

A hand holds up a fragment of boiled egg on a plastic spoon over a bowl of red sauce. Robert Sietsema/Eater

Curried chicken wrap at Ready to Eat

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Twenty years ago there was a wildfire fad for curried chicken salad, as evidenced by a New York Times recipe published in 1998. And sandwiches using a version of this salad can still be found today. At this West Village carryout shop, the salad contains big chunks of chicken, apples, mango chutney, and curry powder, and comes wrapped in a spinach flour tortilla. The curry powder adds a yellowish color and welcome gritty texture, along with powerful spice flavors mellowed by a mayo dressing.

Seen in cross section a wrap with a green wrapper and a chicken salad inside. Robert Sietsema/Eater

Curry chicken at Bo Ky

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Curry was late to arrive in China, and one theory for its eventual appearance is that it was carried by Chinese immigrants who lived in Japan back to China after their expulsion in the 1960s. (The British Navy supposedly brought curry powder to Japan in the 19th century.) But Chinatown’s Bo Ky, recently reopened after a long pandemic closure, is a Teochew restaurant, representing a city in Guangdong whose residents are famous for their diaspora across Southeast Asia. Those returning to China could have also brought back curry powder and incorporated it into this marvelous chicken curry, which contains potatoes and eggplant and achieves a gorgeous gingery pungency.

A chicken in a yellowish red sauce on a bed of white rice. Robert Sietsema/Eater

Indika lamb curry at Indika House

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Decorated with colorful murals, this distinguished Bushwick Indian restaurant in the shadow of the M, J, and Z tracks offers recipes from all over the country on its long menu. But its signature curry is a pungent lamb number. Shot through with coconut milk and colored an agreeable shade of reddish brown, it flings off odors of ginger and cumin. And no, it’s not made with curry powder, though curry is the term applied to the dish by the menu.

A spoon lifts a bite of reddish brown curry aloft. Robert Sietsema/Eater

Chicken curry at Cascade Jerk

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Goat and chicken curries made with curry powder adapted for African-Caribbean tastes, often containing fewer spices and different spices combinations (allspice native to Jamaica is a frequent component), are wildly popular all over the Caribbean. This Jamaican restaurant in South Jamaica, Queens, not far from Baisley Pond, excels at jerks and curries, and the chicken curry found on the steam table is a great choice, complex in flavor and slightly sweet. It comes in island style with all sorts of sides, including mixed veggies, rice and peas, and fried plantains.

An aluminum container with chicken, corn, plantain, rice, and beans jumbled therein. Robert Sietsema/Eater

Chicken curry roti at P & S Bakery and Restaurant

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Indentured Indian workers, often from Bengal and points north, were brought to Guyana from 1838 through 1917 and found themselves lacking many of the spices they had used back home. The solution? In many cases they fell back on curry powder imported from Britain, though eventually these curry powders were reformulated for Caribbean-Indian tastes. In this case, at tiny P&S Bakery in East Flatbush, that approach resulted in an absolutely wonderful version of chicken curry tinged with red oil and mellow beyond your dreams. Showing its Indian roots, a flaky roti is often served alongside rather than rice.

A white plate with yellowish chicken curry and a wadded flatbread. Robert Sietsema/Eater

Goat curry at Good Vibes

Lots of big chunks of brown meat with a hollow bone here and there alongside a serving of rice and beans with gravy partly obscuring it. Robert Sietsema/Eater

Central Harlem newcomer Good Vibes tenders one of the city’s best Jamaican goat curries, with lots of meat in big chunks, far less bony than most. In case you haven’t tried it, goat is more richly flavored than beef or lamb, with a taste you can’t forget. Shown here is the medium-size serving (small and large are also available). It arrives in its aluminum carryout container bedded on a generous serving of rice and peas, and don’t forget to ask that extra gravy be poured over the rice and peas.

Lots of big chunks of brown meat with a hollow bone here and there alongside a serving of rice and beans with gravy partly obscuring it. Robert Sietsema/Eater

Currywurst at Schaller & Weber's Stube

A linear brown pretzel bun with a curry smothered sausage beside it in a white takeout container. Robert Sietsema/Eater

The fabled German currywurst was invented in Hamburg right after World War II, proving that curry continues to travel. The story is recounted in Uwe Timm’s highly recommended novella, The Invention of Curried Sausage. German currywurst has been made available at several places around town in the last decade. The version at Schaller & Weber’s Upper East Side Stube is made by cutting up a knockwurst, depositing it in a pretzel bun, and then smothering it in curry ketchup with additional curry powder added. This is a real gutbomb; delicious, but don’t try to eat two.

A linear brown pretzel bun with a curry smothered sausage beside it in a white takeout container. Robert Sietsema/Eater

Sausage curry at Go! Go! Curry

Three brown sausages in a brown gravy with white rice on the side. Robert Sietsema/Eater

Yes, the British Navy probably brought curry to the Japanese in the 19th century, but the Japanese mutated the hell out of it, using the powder as the starting point for a thick, sweet, relentlessly brown gravy that often contains disparate ingredients like apples and Worcestershire sauce. It can be delivered at a variety of heat levels at this homegrown Japanese curry chain, and you can drop a number of main ingredients into it, the most popular of which is a pork katsu cutlet. My favorite, however, is the Kurobuta sausages made from heirloom pigs, which add a smoky vector to the curry. Shredded cabbage is served on the side as a foil to powerful flavors.

Three brown sausages in a brown gravy with white rice on the side. Robert Sietsema/Eater

Duck panang curry at Ayada

Slices of skin on duck standing up in a bright orange sauce that floods the plate. Robert Sietsema/Eater

Panang curry supposedly originated in Central Thailand, where many dishes called curries were first formulated, though made from spice pastes containing fresh herbs rather than powders. This one from Elmhurst Thai mainstay Ayada is colorful and spicy, and the classic sauce often contains peanuts, dried red chiles, and sometimes even carrots, all contributing to the lurid color. This great dish deposits thick slices of roast duck in the curry; the dark flavor of the bird contrasts with the brightness of the sauce. Make sure you eat it with sticky rice, as is traditional.

Slices of skin on duck standing up in a bright orange sauce that floods the plate. Robert Sietsema/Eater

Malabar fish curry at Taste of Cochin

A yellowish fish curry with a pair of dried red peppers sprouting from the top. Gary He

Now known as Kochi, Cochin is a city on the Malabar Coast in the state of Kerala, where the diet abounds in seafood and coconut milk. Taste of Cochin is a restaurant in far eastern Bellerose, Queens, which is one of the first neighborhoods where the cuisines of southern Indian debuted in New York City. Malabar fish curry features snowy white fillets in a sauce laced with coconut milk and turmeric, among other spices, and the red chile garnish warns of its spiciness.

A yellowish fish curry with a pair of dried red peppers sprouting from the top. Gary He

Spiral curry puffs at Laut Singapura

A pair of half moon hand pies with a curious spiral appearance to the dough. Robert Sietsema/Eater

It’s common to find curry puffs on Thai menus around town as an appetizer — little, deeply browned empanadas with a braided spine and curried potato filling. This Singaporean restaurant in the Flatiron District offers a gussied-up version of the dish, which may have evolved from a fritter brought to Southeast Asia centuries earlier by Dutch colonialists. Its rendition features a pastry rolled into a spiral before being folded into a turnover, and the potato filling is sharper tasting than usual.

A pair of half moon hand pies with a curious spiral appearance to the dough. Robert Sietsema/Eater

Maniac egg curry at Egg Mania

A hand holds up a fragment of boiled egg on a plastic spoon over a bowl of red sauce. Robert Sietsema/Eater

This Jersey City restaurant with Gujarati leanings specializes in chicken ova, and mounts a massive menu with dozens of choices — boiled, scrambled, and poached. The one called maniac egg curry features broken boiled eggs in a spicy tomato sauce, served with a Mumbai flourish: chopped raw onions and slices of toasted white bread. I’d eat this for breakfast every day.

A hand holds up a fragment of boiled egg on a plastic spoon over a bowl of red sauce. Robert Sietsema/Eater

Curried chicken wrap at Ready to Eat

Seen in cross section a wrap with a green wrapper and a chicken salad inside. Robert Sietsema/Eater

Twenty years ago there was a wildfire fad for curried chicken salad, as evidenced by a New York Times recipe published in 1998. And sandwiches using a version of this salad can still be found today. At this West Village carryout shop, the salad contains big chunks of chicken, apples, mango chutney, and curry powder, and comes wrapped in a spinach flour tortilla. The curry powder adds a yellowish color and welcome gritty texture, along with powerful spice flavors mellowed by a mayo dressing.

Seen in cross section a wrap with a green wrapper and a chicken salad inside. Robert Sietsema/Eater

Curry chicken at Bo Ky

A chicken in a yellowish red sauce on a bed of white rice. Robert Sietsema/Eater

Curry was late to arrive in China, and one theory for its eventual appearance is that it was carried by Chinese immigrants who lived in Japan back to China after their expulsion in the 1960s. (The British Navy supposedly brought curry powder to Japan in the 19th century.) But Chinatown’s Bo Ky, recently reopened after a long pandemic closure, is a Teochew restaurant, representing a city in Guangdong whose residents are famous for their diaspora across Southeast Asia. Those returning to China could have also brought back curry powder and incorporated it into this marvelous chicken curry, which contains potatoes and eggplant and achieves a gorgeous gingery pungency.

A chicken in a yellowish red sauce on a bed of white rice. Robert Sietsema/Eater

Indika lamb curry at Indika House

A spoon lifts a bite of reddish brown curry aloft. Robert Sietsema/Eater

Decorated with colorful murals, this distinguished Bushwick Indian restaurant in the shadow of the M, J, and Z tracks offers recipes from all over the country on its long menu. But its signature curry is a pungent lamb number. Shot through with coconut milk and colored an agreeable shade of reddish brown, it flings off odors of ginger and cumin. And no, it’s not made with curry powder, though curry is the term applied to the dish by the menu.

A spoon lifts a bite of reddish brown curry aloft. Robert Sietsema/Eater

Chicken curry at Cascade Jerk

An aluminum container with chicken, corn, plantain, rice, and beans jumbled therein. Robert Sietsema/Eater

Goat and chicken curries made with curry powder adapted for African-Caribbean tastes, often containing fewer spices and different spices combinations (allspice native to Jamaica is a frequent component), are wildly popular all over the Caribbean. This Jamaican restaurant in South Jamaica, Queens, not far from Baisley Pond, excels at jerks and curries, and the chicken curry found on the steam table is a great choice, complex in flavor and slightly sweet. It comes in island style with all sorts of sides, including mixed veggies, rice and peas, and fried plantains.

An aluminum container with chicken, corn, plantain, rice, and beans jumbled therein. Robert Sietsema/Eater

Chicken curry roti at P & S Bakery and Restaurant

A white plate with yellowish chicken curry and a wadded flatbread. Robert Sietsema/Eater

Indentured Indian workers, often from Bengal and points north, were brought to Guyana from 1838 through 1917 and found themselves lacking many of the spices they had used back home. The solution? In many cases they fell back on curry powder imported from Britain, though eventually these curry powders were reformulated for Caribbean-Indian tastes. In this case, at tiny P&S Bakery in East Flatbush, that approach resulted in an absolutely wonderful version of chicken curry tinged with red oil and mellow beyond your dreams. Showing its Indian roots, a flaky roti is often served alongside rather than rice.

A white plate with yellowish chicken curry and a wadded flatbread. Robert Sietsema/Eater

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