When thinking of spicy debates, few things stir the pot like the question: is it chicken curry or curry chicken? Accustomed to hearing both, but never really knowing for sure, I reach out to a few experts to find out which one (wait for it) curried more weight in the Caribbean community.
“I was laughing as I was reading your email because just a few days ago my Guyanese and Trinidadian friends were having this argument,” says Anthropology Professor Gillian Richards-Greaves, Ph.D., about the naming dispute.
According to the Coastal Carolina University professor, whose research is centered on Caribbean culture (including food, identity and migration), curry arrived in the Caribbean by way of indentured laborers from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Therefore, the spice blends of the subcontinent were effectively woven into the fabric of Caribbean cuisine. Since Trinidad/Tobago and Guyana have the highest population of East Indians out of any other Caribbean nation, they would also arguably have the strongest Caribbean ties to the legitimacy of the curry-based dish and thus its name.
Yet, despite the close cultural connections between Trinidad and Guyana, I’m also aware the nations find themselves in rivalry for various things, including the preferred name of the curry dish.
“I have no idea why Trinidadians say it this way,” Richards-Greave says referring to the “chicken curry” leaning (Richards-Greave, who is Guyanese, says the Guyanese prefer to say “curry chicken”). “However, I would say that having spent a lot of time around Indians from India; they also tend to put the descriptive noun before the ‘curry,’ like ‘chicken curry’ and ‘alu (potato) curry.’ If this is indeed true, the Trinidadians might be able to claim greater ‘authenticity’ in the naming of their curries.”
But, of course, just like I experienced when I tried making the dish, the curry paradox isn’t all that simple. After a few more discussions with my Caribbean comrades (in Jamaica, Guyana, Trinidad, Antigua, etc.), I discover even more discrepancies—with the nations themselves even split in their preference for the name.
“Since I was a young girl, I’ve always known of the naming ‘debate.’ I choose to say ‘chicken curry’ because that’s how it was always referenced growing up in my Indo-Guyanese family,” says Florida-based food blogger Alica Ramkirpal-Senhouse of AlicasPepperPot.com.
“We don’t say ‘chicken curry.’ No one says ‘chicken curry,’” replies Trinidad-born private chef Dexter Samuel emphatically.
Samuel, the long-time personal chef to vegan songstress Erykah Badu, says his family owned a vegetarian restaurant in Trinidad, where they, of course, served curried vegetables. So, naturally I ask: What was it called on your family’s menu?
“Curry vegetable,” Samuel laughs, just stopping short of adding, ‘duh’ to his answer. “Always curry vegetable. And it’s curry chicken because we emphasize everything we do with the chicken. If it’s fried chicken, curry chicken, baked chicken, stewed chicken. We never put the chicken before what we’re doing.”
Continue reading the rest of the article over at Essence.com