Ultimate guide to different types of curry

Sri Lankan curry

Blanche Clark

Posted October 06, 2022

Our love affair with curry has evolved to incorporate influences from all over the world. So, what is curry exactly? And what spices do you use to get different flavours?

Whether you’re preparing a family meal, ordering takeaway or dining out, it’s likely that at some stage your choice will be a curry. Research by Roy Morgan shows Indian cuisine ranked fourth in Australia’s top 10 favourite international cuisines, and butter chicken is Australian’s second favourite takeaway dish after Pad Thai, according to online ordering service Menulog.

At RACV Club, a Sri Lankan fish curry was added to the refurbished Bistro’s menu in June and proved an instant hit. The Sri Lankan Barramundi Curry (pictured above) is an authentic representation of the types of meals RACV Chef de Partie Dhammika Gunawardana enjoyed when he was growing up.

“There are many different fish curry dishes, but what makes this one an authentic Sri Lankan curry is the coconut milk,” he says. “We don’t strain the sauce either; you can see the onion and everything because that’s the way we eat it back in Sri Lanka.”

The curry dish is flavoured with fennel, cumin seed, coriander, cinnamon, cardamon and cloves, as well as curry leaves and pandan leaves, which have a grassy and nutty taste. It is served with traditional salads, one eggplant and one cucumber, and fermented rice.

“Sri Lankan curries are usually hotter than curries from the south of India, but this one is a bit milder so it should suit more people,” Gunawardana says.

Cumin seeds

Cumin seeds should be lightly roasted to bring out that spicy-sweet aroma. Image: Lisa Luscombe

Tips for cooking curry sauce

RACV Country Club & Resort Executive Chef Himanshu Sharda, who oversees Banyalla and Riddell’s Green, says the use of fresh spices is an important element of a good curry. Whole spices also last longer than ground spices.

“Dried ground spices stay fresh for about two or so years, so you need to update your pantry regularly,” he says. “The spice should be fragrant and if it doesn’t have any smell, it’s probably not going to add much flavour to your food.” If in doubt, follow the use-by date on the container or packet.

Sharda says curries need patience and slow cooking to extract the full flavours from the spices.

“Fry the spices in oil or ghee and let the curry gently simmer rather than boiling the sauce and ingredients in a saucepan,” he says.

“If you make your curry too hot or spicy, you can use more vegetables, coconut milk, yoghurt, lemon or lime juice to balance it. Being too hot is not always a great idea as it overpowers your taste buds.”

Spices can also be used without making a sauce. The Naugaon duck dish at Banyalla is marinated in nine spices and oven cooked. The duck is then served with what Sharda calls a ‘village sauce’.

“I named it that because I grew up on a farm, and we used to walk through the paddock and pick tomatoes, coriander and chilli and make a sauce out of that. For this dish I’ve made a sweet and sour sauce with tamarind, palm sugar and saffron. The beetroot adds a nice colour.”


Lamb cooked with nine spices

Nine spices are used for one of Banyalla's signature dishes, which changes seasonally. Image: Supplied.

Where does the word curry come from?

Curry is a catch-all word for dozens of sauces, be they mild, fragrant, sweet, spicy or extra hot, that add flavour and richness to meat, chicken, fish, lentils, tofu and vegetables.

Although “curry” generally refers to Indian cuisine, the word is not actually used in the sub-continent. Its origin is attributed to the Portuguese – who first brought spices from India to Europe in the 16th century – and is believed to be a mispronunciation of the Indian word “khari” or “kari”.

It’s not even clear if the word the Portuguese heard was referring to a particular spice blend, a dish itself or just a sauce, but these days you’ll find different types of curry across the globe. Europeans also created curry powder as a quick way to create a meal without having to master the intricacies of all the spices. 

What are the different types of curry?

Curry can be mild or pack a punch, depending on your preference and tolerance of spicy food. Regional variants have developed and include red and green curries from Thailand, creamy curries from Japan, and spicy slow-cooked curries from Indonesia.


Chickpea curry

Chickpeas are great for curries, and our budget-friendly vegetable tagine. Image: Getty.

What are the most popular Indian curries?


Madras is a tomato-based curry. The spices commonly used include cayenne, clove, and fenugreek and lots of chillies. 

“In South India, the dish is called Chettinad masala,” Sharda says.

“Chettinad means land, and the spice mix is made up of coriander seeds, cumin seeds, red chillies, carom seeds, star anise, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, fennel seeds, peppercorns, fenugreek seeds, poppy seeds and mace.”

These spices are dry roasted in a skillet or pan over a medium-low flame until fragrant, and then ground into a fine powder, which can be stored in a jar for up to four months.


Korma is a yoghurt-based curry, usually made with onion, garlic, tomatoes and cashews. Cumin seeds, coriander seeds and turmeric are also used, but there is an emphasis on cardamom and cinnamon. 

Rogan josh

Rogan josh is a lamb stew made with chillies and yoghurt. It’s very fragrant, thanks to cinnamon, cloves, coriander seeds and cardamom. The yoghurt is used to balance the heat from the chillies.

Tikka Masala

The meat – usually chicken - is marinated in spices and cooked in a tandoor (urn-shaped oven). Key spices include coriander, cumin, cinnamon, and black pepper. Sometimes fresh chillies are used, making the sauce spicier than korma.


This is an incredibly hot dish from the southern Goa region that is often made with pork. 

“Vindaloo has a Portuguese influence and is named after a Portuguese dish – carne de vinha d'alhos,” Sharda says.

Sweet tamarind, floral cardamon, warm spices and black pepper create the flavour, and several hot chillies account for the heat. 


sauce being put on to sausage wrapped in bread

Red chillies are the key ingredient for Thai red curry. Image: Lisa Luscombe

What is a Japanese curry roux?

Japanese curry is mild and consists of a roux that makes it thick and creamy. The curry roux is made from butter, flour, and spices, which can include cumin, cardamom, cayenne pepper, turmeric, or Japanese curry powder. The other common ingredients are potatoes, carrots, onions and pork or beef. 

What curry is popular in Indonesia?

Rendang is one of the most popular curries in Indonesia, and it’s relatively easy to cook at home. It is a slow-cooked stew that is considered a dry curry, because the sauce is reduced until it sticks to the meat, creating a rich flavour. 

Spices commonly used include coriander, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. The number of chillies added depends on how hot you like it, but traditionally it’s quite a mild curry and the sauce goes well with both beef and chicken.


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