Curry is not a single spice, nor is it related to the namesake curry tree (though the leaves are used in many dishes in India).
The catch-all umbrella term to a "spiced meat, fish or vegetable stew," either freshly prepared as a powder or spice paste or purchased as a ready-made mixture," writes Colleen Sen in her book "Curry: A Global History."
According to Sen's book,
the word curry most likely from a misunderstanding of the southern Indian word 'kari',
which a spiced dish of sauteed vegetables and meat."
"In the 17th century,
the Portuguese who Goa in western India] took the word to mean a 'spiced stew' over rice and 'kari' eventually became 'caril' or 'caree' in Portuguese, then 'curry' in English", Sen tells CNN Travel.
Curry, which is thought to have originated as early as 2500 BCE in what is modern-day Pakistan, has since evolved into a truly global food, having traveled the world through colonization and immigration, indentured labor, trade and entrepreneurship.
Today, curry is everywhere, from chicken tikka masala in the UK to fiery green curry in Thailand, kare raisu in Japan and curry goat in Jamaica. "I don't think there's a place in the world that doesn't have some kind of curry," says Sen.
Indian cuisine is incredibly diverse and complex, with local specialties and traditions varying from state to state and community to community. It's impossible to sum up
India's various "curries" in a few lines. But if there's one dish that can be found on menus across the country, it'd be murgh makhani — better known around the world as butter chicken. This famous dish, by chef and restaurateur Kundan Lal Gujral in New Delhi in 1948, stars yogurt-marinated chicken baked in a tandoor oven, then smothered in a rich creamy sauce of tomatoes, onions and spices.