20 Most Popular Indian Curries
Curry originated in the Indian subcontinent and the word comes from the Indian Tamil word “Kari” meaning “to bite” or as a reference to meat or the flesh of a plant. Over the years, this humble dish has been influenced by the many cultures and people who have made India their own, adapting and evolving the humble curry, making distinct styles.
There is no universal curry powder, a single fix-all option doesn’t exist. Each curry has its own unique character, body, flavor, and texture. Curries from the various regions of India reflect the demographics of the place and people and those ingredients that are native to that region.
Curry powder as we know it in the West is a British invention that dates to the 18th century. In the rest of the world, curries are made from scratch using spices whole or ground along with others for mixtures that vary according to regional traditions.
Apart from India, most southeast Asian countries have a form of curry in their diet. The humble curry has spread as far as Japan, but that one is a far cry from the original Indian dish.
Now, let’s round-up some of the most popular and delicious Indian curries.
1. Dal Makhani
One of the most popular and famous lentil-based curries from the Indian subcontinent hails from the north and is famous in the capital city of Delhi. It is made using a combination of black lentils (urad dal) and red kidney beans (rajma). The lentils are soaked over night and then cooked in a rich tomato-based sauce or gravy spiced with garam masala, coriander seeds, turmeric, and chili powder.
Butter plays a vital role in imparting a rich creamy texture combined with the mashed lentils, and fresh cream; ginger and garlic give a fresh burst of flavors. This dish is best paired with a hot naan straight out of the tandoor.
Traditionally, the dal would be cooked overnight and left on a tandoor to impart a smoky aftertaste.
The humble cousin to the North Indian dal tadka or dal makhani is the South Indian sambar.
According to food historian K. T. Achaya, the earliest extant mention of sambar in literature can be dated to the 17th century. The word sambar stems from the Tamil word champaaram. A Tamil inscription of 1530 CE shows evidence of the use of the word champaaram to mean a dish of rice accompanying other rice dishes or spice ingredients with which a dish of vegetable rice is cooked.
It is a lentil-based curry, cooked with summer vegetables such as carrots, beans, gourds, and potatoes, drumsticks and much more.
Each South Indian state has its own sambar and takes pride in the diverse variety available in the country. It can be consumed as an accompaniment for all three meals making it one of the most versatile curries out there.
3. Kadhi or Moru-Kholumbu
Kadhi or karhi is a dish originating from Rajasthan. It consists of a thick gravy based on gram flour, and contains vegetable fritters called pakoras, to which dahi (yogurt) is added to give it a bit of sour taste. It is often eaten with cooked rice or roti.
In northern India, pakoras are added to the gram flour gravy and sour yogurt is added to add flavor to it. They are eaten either with boiled rice or roti. In Gujarat and Rajasthan, it is usually served with khichdi, roti, paratha, or rice. It is considered a light food.
Down south, moru kholumbu is made in a similar manner but omitting the besan flour and thickened using yogurt and a medley of freshly available vegetables.
Both variants have a mild yellow color due to the addition of turmeric and usually have a thin layer of oil floating on top, form the tempering of mustard, chilies, and curry leaf usually added at the end.
4. Chicken Stew
Kerala-style chicken stew is a very mild yet flavorful chicken curry which is cooked in coconut milk with mild spices and is a traditional recipe from the state of Kerala in India. It is often made in the Syrian catholic community in Kerala and eaten as a breakfast staple paired along with rice hoppers.
Cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves paired together bring out a sweet yet aromatic flavor. Potatoes, beans, and carrots are the vegetables of choice here, adding body and varied texture to the dish overall.
Also fondly known as nadan chicken ishtu, it is traditionally made using coconut oil, which elevates the entire taste to a whole new level.
5. Macher Jhol
Machher jhol or machha jhola is a traditional spicy fish curry from Bengali and Odia cuisines in the eastern part of the Indian subcontinent. It is a very spicy stew or gravy that is served with rice.
Machher jhol is liberally seasoned with turmeric, garlic, onions, grated ginger, and Indian spices. Potatoes are added to the curry as a thickening agent. Tomatoes are also added to impart the dish with a reddish color, which is preferred by the people of Bengal.
The kinds of fish typically used in Bengali and Odia households are hilsa (called ilish), rohu (called rui or rohi), and catla (called bhakura).
6. Pork Vindaloo
Vindaloo or vindalho is an Indian curry dish, originally from Goa, based on the Portuguese dish carne de vinha d’alhos. It is known globally in its British Indian form as a staple of curry house and Indian restaurant menus, and is often regarded as a fiery, spicy dish.
The traditional recipe uses pork, but alternative versions can been prepared with beef, mutton, prawns, chicken, and vegetables.
A vindaloo is a dish of meat (usually pork) marinated in vinegar and garlic. This evolved from a Portuguese tradition of preserving meat by layering pork and garlic alternatively and covering it with red wine, later adopted by the local Goan population, converting it into the dish we all love today.
The British Indian version of vindaloo calls for the meat to be marinated in vinegar, sugar, fresh ginger, and spices, then cooked with more spices.
Roganjosh, also spelled roghan josh or roghan ghosht, is an aromatic curried meat dish of Kashmiri origin. It is made with red meat—traditionally lamb, mutton, or goat—and colored and flavored primarily with alkanet flower (or root) and Kashmiri chilies.
It is one of the signature recipes of Kashmiri cuisine and one of the main dishes of the Kashmiri multicourse meal, the wazwan. The dish was originally brought to Kashmir by the Mughals, whose cuisine was, in turn, influenced by Persian cuisine. The unrelenting summer heat of the Indian plains took the Mughals frequently to Kashmir, which has a cooler climate because of its elevation and latitude.
Rogan josh consists of pieces of lamb or mutton braised with a gravy flavored with garlic, ginger, and aromatic spices (cloves, bay leaves, cardamom, and cinnamon), and in some versions incorporating onions or yogurt. After initial braising, the dish may be finished using the dampokhtak slow cooking technique.
8. Butter Chicken or Murgh Makhani
Butter chicken or chicken makhani is a beloved delicious, lip-smacking, popular dish enjoyed by many across the world. Traditionally a Punjabi dish, it is coveted most for its rich creamy texture and flavors.
Today it is a staple on many Indian menus with each chef adding their own twist. Made famous by Indian curry houses across the UK, it’s best enjoyed with garlic butter naan or basmati rice.
It’s made from a base of tomatoes and onions cooked along with sweet spices and nuts finished with a hearty serving of butter and fresh cream.
9. Meen Moilee
Fish moilee/moily or fish molee (meen molee) is a spicy fish and coconut dish of mixed origin: Portuguese and Indian. The Portugese were not used to the intense heat of South Indian curries and added coconut milk to tone them down. During the British Empire, it spread to other areas of Southeast Asia such as Malaysia and Singapore.
It is traditionally prepared with the pearl spot fish, fondly called kari meen in Malayalam. Today, it is mainly enjoyed by the Syrian Christian community of Kerala, who were closely associated with the Portugese.
It is also a popular Indian Christmas food.
10. Punjabi Aloo Dum
Dum aloo (also spelled dam aloo) or aloor dum is a potato-based curry dish. Dum means slow-cooked, and aloo is potato. It is a part of the traditional Kashmiri Pandit cuisine, from the Kashmir Valley in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. There are also Banarasi and Bengali variations.
The potatoes, usually smaller ones, are first skinned and deep fried. Kashmiri dum aloo gravy is made with yogurt or khoya, and often includes a cashew nut paste. The Banarasi variation gravy is made from tomatoes and onions. Spices such as red chilies, garlic, ginger, cardamom, and fennel are added to the gravy. The potatoes are cooked slowly on a low heat in the gravy and can be garnished with coriander. Dum aloo is often served with naan.
11. Paneer Lababdar
Lababdar means a strong desire for something and complete surrender to it. It is a term attached to this dish to signify complete surrender of one’s taste buds to it.
The curry is a thick creamy sauce consisting of boiled skinned and puréed tomatoes blended with a creamy thick mixture of cashew nuts boiled and puréed with milk. Dollops of butter and a generous serving of cream emulsifies this rich dish into the start of the dinner table. This version uses paneer, but the same can be adopted with chicken or lamb.
Cinnamon, green, and black cardamom, ginger, and fenugreek leaf are the main flavorings used here in addition to the tomato and cashew mix. Best enjoyed with a hot naan or basmati pulav.
12. Palak Paneer
Palak paneer is a vegetarian dish, consisting of paneer (a type of cottage cheese) in a thick paste made from puréed spinach, called palak in Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati, and other Indian languages.
The terms palak paneer and saag paneer are sometimes used interchangeably in restaurants in the United States and Canada. However, saag paneer is different from traditional palak paneer in that it contains other green leafy vegetables, such as mustard greens, whereas palak paneer only contains spinach.
Palak paneer is prepared by first boiling and puréeing spinach. The purée is then mixed with sautéed tomatoes and onions. Grilled cubes of paneer are then added to the purée. Palak paneer is typically spiced with ginger, garlic, tomatoes, garam masala, turmeric, chili powder, and cumin.
Palak paneer is served hot with a side such as roti, naan, paranthas, makki di roti (corn roti), or boiled rice. It can also be served with onions on the side for a more traditional approach.
13. Baingan Bharta
Baingan bharta (mashed eggplant) is a South Asian curry prepared by mincing grilled eggplant (baingan) and mixing it with tomato, onion, herbs, and spices. Grilling the eggplant over charcoal or direct fire infuses the dish with a smoky flavor.
The mashed eggplant is then mixed with cooked chopped tomato, browned onion, ginger, garlic, cumin, fresh cilantro (coriander leaves), chili pepper, and mustard oil or a neutral vegetable oil. Traditionally, the dish is eaten with flatbread (specifically roti or paratha) and is served with rice or raita, a yogurt salad. In Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, it is served hot with litti or baati.
In India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, baingan bharta is part of popular cuisine. In India, it is made in various regional styles, with ingredients varying from one region to another. Some non-Punjabi variants may omit the tomato and sometimes the onion as well.
14. Karaikudi Chicken Curry – Chettinad Chicken Curry
This Chettinad chicken curry is a classic South Indian curry originating from the Chettinad region of India. Most of the dishes in the region are eaten with rice and rice-based accompaniments such as dosais, appams, idiyappam, adais, and idlis.
The recipe calls for the following spices to be roasted and ground to a thick paste to form the base of the dish: peppercorn, cardamom, chilies, cinnamon, and coconut.
It has a rich wholesome aroma and flavors, contrary to the mildly spiced creamy dishes of the North.
15. Mutton Paya
There is nothing more relaxing than a hot bowl of delicious mutton payaa infused with robust spices and flavor paired with a crispy hot dosa. Regarded as one of the healthiest curries around, this dish is made from lamb trotters and is rich in calcium, protein, amino acids, healthy bone marrow, and collagen.
The stew made out of goat’s trotters helps strengthen bones and joints, ease joint pain, prevent osteoarthritis, maintain and heal the intestine, make skin, hair, and nails healthy and radiant, and what is best is that it is remarkably easy to bring all of this flavor and health to your table regularly by making a good bone broth at home! Coriander and coconut are ground and added to thicken the gravy down south, while up north it’s mainly tomato based.
16. Mutton Ball Curry
A staple amongst the Anglo-Indian community in India, meatballs aka koftas, are minced meat flavored with green chilies and coriander, slowly cooked in a spiced gravy consisting of coconut milk and tomatoes.
The meatballs are tender, moist, and flavorful in a perfectly spiced tomato based curry. They are usually served with saffron infused coconut rice; a perfect meal on a cold Christmas night.
17. Chicken Mappas
Chicken mapas is a delicious South Indian-style chicken curry with a base of coconut milk and an array of spices. This robust chicken curry is a classic dish from the state of Kerala and goes well with absolutely anything like appam (rice hoppers) or even steamed rice.
The curry has the perfect balance of spiciness and richness due to the generous amount of coconut cream used in this recipe. Toasted ground coriander seeds paired with shallots fried in coconut oil give this dish a unique flavor indeed.
Chicken mapas in traditionally cooked in a cast iron pan for the deeper, richer color it gives. Easy to make and delicious, chicken mapas is perfect for a weekday dinner or fits for a larger weekend brunch.
18. Kadala Curry
A variant of the channa masala widely consumed in the north of the country, this dish uses black chickpeas in contrast to the white variety commonly used. The darker variety has a grittier bite and an earthier flavor. It is a deep brown roasted masala-based gravy with coconut milk, which adds a touch of creaminess.
It is usually consumed as a part of breakfast but may just as easily be eaten at lunch or dinner. The Kadala curry gets its delicious flavors from the freshly ground coconut along with the delectable flavors of green chillies, fennel, coriander, curry leaves, and more.
Serve it along with puttu, appam, Kerala parotta or even just hot steamed rice topped with ghee to make a delicious meal.
19. Kori Gassi
The name literally translates to chicken (kori) curry (gassi). But this spicy rich curry is a native of the coastal regions surrounding Mangalore, a port city on the western coast of India to the north of Kerala.
This region is famous for its vegetarian Hindu temple cuisine, but also has a rich history of using seafood and meat in their own distinct fashion. It is a cuisine influenced by the Portuguese, the Malabar, and Karnataka.
This curry is usually eaten with thin rice wafers. The combination is so popular that the locals fondly call the wafer kori roti (chicken roti), even though there is no chicken used them.
Mangalore is a hot coastal region. The people here love their spices and coconut, which can be found in most of their curries. The gorgeous red color is from the dried red chilies that are ground and added to the curry.
20. Lucknowi Nihari Gosht
The city of Lucknow in the North Indian state of Uttar Pradesh is considered one of the culinary capitals of the country owing to its rich Muglai tradition and the prominence of Awadhi cuisine pan India.
This recipe is a classic taken from the cook books of the royal court chefs and involves braising lamb shanks in a rich onion and tomato-based curry that is slow cooked till the meat literally falls off the bone and the marrow emulsifies with the rich curry, adding a nuanced touch of umami.
Nihari gosht is a traditional Muslim dish that has slowly taken over the taste buds of people across borders. Nihari is also considered to be the national dish of Pakistan. Earlier Nihari recipes had myriad variations of spices, due to which it was slow cooked overnight and served the next morning on special occasions and festivals like Eid.
A delicious amalgamation, Nihari gosht has rich spices and herbs such as cardamom, cinnamon, chilies, bay leaves, and nutmeg mixed with yogurt and gulab jal. Saffron adds an exotic and aromatic flavor to the dish. This is the perfect meat dish, adorned with the aroma of rose water and tons of spices.