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09th Aug 2021

Food bloggers call for word ‘curry’ to be cancelled over British colonialism roots

Charlie Herbert

“The word curry does not exist in any South Asian language to my knowledge.”

South Asian food bloggers all calling for the word ‘curry’ to stop being used, arguing that it is overused and is rooted in British colonialism.

Earlier this year, food blogger Chaheti Bansal posted a video on Instagram calling on people to “cancel the word curry.”

In the video she says the word is misused by Western cultures to describe almost any dish made on the Indian subcontinent.

She said: “There’s a saying that the food in India changes every 100km and yet we’re still using this umbrella term popularised by white people who couldn’t be bothered to learn the actual names of our dishes.

“But we can still unlearn.”

Speaking to NBC News, she added: “Curry shouldn’t be all that you think about when you think about South Asian food.”

Ilyse Morgenstein Furest, who is an associate religious studies professor at the University of Vermont and an expert in South Asia, said that the word actually doesn’t even exist in South Asian culture and came about because the “British bad ear.”

She said: “The word curry does not exist in any South Asian language to my knowledge.

“Curry is one of these words that most historians attribute to the British bad ear.”

A number of historians claim that British officials misheard the Tamil word ‘kari,’ which can be translated to mean both “blackened” and “side dish.”

Prof Furest suggests that after British colonists arrived in the region in the 1850s, they started using the term. Eventually locals began using it as well.

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“South Asians can turn around and say, ‘OK, if these British officers want curry, and I stand to profit, whether that’s socially, politically, financially, then I set up a curry house,'” she told NBC News.

Therefore, for Prof Furest, the word ‘curry’ is both largely incorrect and “rooted in white supremacy.”

Bansal says that the word shouldn’t be cancelled completely though. She points out that in South India the word describes a variety of dishes from meat ones in gravy to vegetable sides.

It just shouldn’t be used as an umbrella term.

She said: “My partner is Sri Lankan, I have friends that are Malayali, friends that are Tamil, and yes they use the word curry.

“But you shouldn’t just lump all of our foods together under this term.”