Durban Curry or Cape Malay Curry?

Cape Malay Vegetable Curry
Cape Malay Vegetable Curry

Cape Malay Vegetable Curry

Winter is curry time.

Well, any time is curry time, but curry in a Cape winter just pushes the happiness meter way up.  I am an avid curry lover, from Rogan Josh to Balti, Korma, Vindaloo, Jalfrezi and all the rest.  Not that I always know all the differences, but I do know what tastes good! I learned to make them from various Indian friends in all parts of the world. That only covers the Indian curries! Sometimes I am seriously happy that humans have to eat so often because there are so many amazing curries in the world.

In SA, as a child, I associated curry mostly with the mince curry and rice that we used to get at church bazaars and school functions. We always ate it with Mrs. Ball’s chutney, sliced banana, and desiccated coconut. Which reminds me, I haven’t had that in ages!  Must make a plan…  My mum also cooked good beef and mutton curries but they were all flavoured with the same spices from the Rajah packet.  At least until my dad started traveling to Durban often, for work, and brought back big bags of curry spices from the Indian spice market.  Now remember, those were the days before Google. Also, long before eating out was a thing. The only “thing” it was, was a thing we did maybe once or twice a year, on a special occasion, and Indian restaurants didn’t exist in Kempton Park in the 70’s and 80’s as far as I know.

That means we didn’t know about different curries.  All we knew was beef, mutton, and sometimes, chicken curry, and it was either handstands-in-the-shower hot, or not.

Then I discovered real Durban curry… And Malaysian curry, and Japanese, Indonesian and Thai curry.  A whole new world of curries opened up for me, and I have been experimenting with them all ever since.

The other day Bev was complaining that her Durban curry masala was almost finished, and we decided to try and make our own.  It was a sort of off-the-cuff attempt, based on what I could taste in the real Mc Coy.  Not a totally bad attempt, I think, but it made me wonder for the first time what the difference actually is between a Durban curry and a Cape curry.

To find those subtle but flavourful differences, I have compared more than 50 recipes for the three main, basic curry masala mixes we use in South Africa, and the curries we cook with them. There are more variations than we can count; probably one for every single cook who has ever mixed their own curry spices.  Yet, there seems to be silent consent about which spices are most often used for which type of curry, with the main variations probably being in the quantities.

The chart here below explains which spices are most often used in masala for Durban Curry, Cape Malay Curry and Garam Masala.  It’s handy guide for everyone interested in the differences between Durban Curry and Cape Malay Curry.

Other differences between Durban curry and Cape Malay curry:

  • Durban curry is generally hotter than Cape curry, so add more chillies or chilli powder.
  • Some spices, like whole star anise, bay leaves and cinnamon sticks are not necessarily added to the masala mix, but can still be added whole to the curry.
  • Durban curry is more red, due to the extra chili powder but also because tomato is an important ingredient. Durban curry makers put fresh, chopped tomato or canned tomato in their curries. Often both.
  • Garam Masala is often used in both curries, combined with other spices.
  • Garam means “warmth” but it shouldn’t be confused with hot or spicy. “Warmth” refers to the feeling of warmth and comfort the spices symbolise, and also to the fact that the whole spices for garam masala are toasted before they are ground to a powder.
  • Garam masala is most often not spicy hot. It doesn’t have much of a “burn.”
  • Garam masala is used in two ways, in the same curry. Some of the masala is added and sauteed with the onions right at the beginning of cooking your curry. More garam masala is added after cooking the dish; sometimes even at the table.  It brings out the warm taste and aroma of all the spices and packs a rich, flavourful punch.
  • It is not unusual for Cape Malay curry to have more of a sweetness, either from chutneys or coconut milk.
  • Don’t be in a hurry when cooking a curry. Meat should be soft and fall off the bone.  Add your vegetables at a later stage so they don’t get soggy and overcooked.
  • Potatoes are an essential ingredient in most curries. It adds flavour and texture, and can also be a natural thickener for the gravy in your curry.

For our curry recipes, please click on the links, or browse through the recipe section.

Durban Curry

Cape Malay Curry

Black Bean Curry

I think I need to cook a curry right now! Typing can make you hungry, especially typing about delicious food!

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