Why Shouldn’t You Ask an Indian for Curry? And a Recipe for Garam Masala


How to make Garam Masala from scratch by Indiaphile.info

When I was a kid I was always confused by the word “curry” because my non-Indian friends used it in a way that didn’t make any sense to me. They called everything from a dry potato saute with spices, to soupy lentils, to chicken in a cream sauce “curry.” Indians usually only use the word “curry” when they are speaking English and then only when referring to something with a sauce or gravy, rather than a spice.

Curry is a word invented by the British back when they ruled India. It is the anglicized version of the Tamil word kari, meaning sauce and is now commonly used to describe almost any food of South Asian origin.

I used to get really upset when people would use the word “curry”. I would insist that foods be called by their proper names because there is no such thing as curry in Indian food and that curries are a British invention.

How to make Garam Masala from scratch by Indiaphile.info

How to make Garam Masala from scratch by Indiaphile.info

Over the years as I’ve introduced more and more friends to Indian food, and translated the traditional Indian names into English, I’ve found myself using the word “curry” more and more. It is useful as an English translation for the word masala (meaning a mix of spices).

It just made more sense to people new to Indian food. I no longer get upset about the term, but embrace it instead. The word curry invokes an image of warm, spicy, delicious food. And since language is ever changing, I’m okay with accepting the word into my vocabulary.

I’ve found that most people who are new to Indian food use the word curry as they are learning about the cuisine but switch to the authentic names of foods as they become more familiar with it. What more can I ask for?

Indian spice merchants are said to have invented the well known curry powder for British colonial personnel returning to Britain. The closest thing to the store bought “curry powder” that is commonly used in the Indian kitchen is the garam masala. There are many other spice mixtures available in Indian (and Indian stores) that can also be called curry powder, but if you have to guess what someone means by curry powder, garam masala is a safe bet. 

Garam means warm or hot, and masala means a mixture of spices. This spice mixture is not about spicy heat from chili but more about the warmth and complexity created by blending various spices. There is no set recipe for a garam masala, it varies greatly depending on region and personal preference.

How to make Garam Masala from scratch by Indiaphile.info

How to make Garam Masala from scratch by Indiaphile.info

My mom doesn’t use garam masala. She likes to just use a blend of half cumin and half coriander seed powder and add in other dry spices and fresh ingredients like ginger, garlic and cilantro as she cooks.

So when I set about trying to find a garam masala I didn’t have an old family recipe to refer to. I experimented a lot. I started with store bought versions but was never happy with them. Then I started blending my own.

Cumin, cinnamon, cardamom, black pepper and cloves are the backbone of most garam masalas. So I started with a basic version with just a few spices. That first batch was okay, better than store bought but I wasn’t completely happy. Over the last couple years, I’ve worked out a recipe that I really like. I like to throw in a lot of different spices because I like the complexity. I’ll probably still keep fiddling with it, because that’s me! But here’s my current recipe. Feel free to experiment with your own set of spices.

How to make Garam Masala from scratch by Indiaphile.info

How to make Garam Masala from scratch by Indiaphile.info

Garam Masala

Garam Masala

5 from 3 votes
Print Pin Rate
Cuisine: Indian
Keyword: garam masala, spices
Servings: 40
Calories: 4kcal


  • 1/4 cup cumin seeds
  • 2 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp cardamom seeds remove the green shell and use just the black seeds
  • 1 tbsp black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp cloves
  • 1 to 2 dried red chilies
  • 2 inch piece of cinnamon stick
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg


  • Toss all the spices onto a dry pan and heat over medium heat. Stir often.
  • Heat until you start to smell the aroma of the spices and they start to turn golden brown about 5 minutes. Watch very carefully that the spices don’t burn. Constant stirring is important.
  • Once the spices are toasted, separate out the nutmeg. Use a microplane or fine grinder to grate the nutmeg. (You can toss it into the spice grinder but every time I do, it makes so much noise that I’m afraid my grinder will break so I just grate the nutmeg separately and add it in later).
  • Grind the the rest of the spices using either a spice grinder, clean coffee grinder or morter and pestle.
  • Add in the grated nutmeg. Mix well.


Serving: 5g | Calories: 4kcal | Sodium: 1mg | Potassium: 17mg | Vitamin A: 10IU | Vitamin C: 0.1mg | Calcium: 10mg | Iron: 0.5mg

Comments on "Why Shouldn’t You Ask an Indian for Curry? And a Recipe for Garam Masala"

  1. May 26, 2013

    My favourite is when people go to Indian restaurants and order "chai tea, please".

    1. May 26, 2013
      Steve Thomas-Patel:

      Or call it an "atm machine"

      1. January 2, 2014

        or "two twins"

    2. June 19, 2021

      People order chai tea because it is listed that way on menus, especially at coffee shops. They don't even know what chai means. I just order Pepsi Pepsi :)

  2. May 27, 2013
    [email protected]:

    Ha ha .. Good write up. Enjoyed reading it.

  3. October 26, 2015
    Catherine Robey:

    Thank you for sharing your recipe ~ I have struggled to find a decent Garam Masala. I made my own but overdid the cloves.....do you think I can just double up on the other ingredients so that the cloves are not so overpowering, or just start from scratch again?

    1. October 26, 2015
      Puja Thomas-Patel:

      Hi Catherine,
      Absolutely! You could simply double the other ingredients. You could also play around with the flavors by just adding a little more of cumin or coriander.

  4. November 19, 2015

    My favorite curry consists of human fingers, mixed with Parker's mom. Garret is probably the BEST curry chef in the town, and he stays with you after the meal ;) if you know what I mean

    1. November 19, 2015

      Only Men apply--^

  5. December 29, 2015

    Don't get offended, be grateful that someone is open to other cultures :) I've seen plenty of resistance to anything foreign in the U.S. and Europe. England has probably been the place most open to integration despite it's long history of bringing its own idea of "civilisation" to the rest of the world (not only India) and it can appreciate Indian cuisine better than anyone outside of Asia; even if gravy just so happens to be their favourite part of the meal. Eating a falafel there would send you running to the nearest "curry" vendor - trust me. You wouldn't believe some of the Indian cuisine I've actually spent money on in Germany! And just think what Italians have to put up with when they discover the Indian pizza culture! So, no cause for getting upset. Plenty gets lost in translation and people just look for the best way to communicate by creating avenues in the best way that they can, even if they have to simplify words or bend their meaning. Peace.

    1. October 27, 2018

      Hopefully we'll get to a place where people don't see this type of cuisine as foreign. I can't speak for Euorope, but Indian cuisine is very much a part of my experience growing up in America, along with a lot of other people. Also, thank you for educating those who don't really know what these terms mean about them. I think when in doubt, communication solves a lot of problems.

  6. April 29, 2018
    Biplab Poddar:

    Thank you for sharing the recipe of Garam masala. In India there are various forms of garam masala , it varies from region to region and the flavours are also different.

  7. May 12, 2018

    Yeah. The first time I heard about it, I was like wtf is curry powder. And I'm as Indian as Indian can be.
    Also, Garam Masala under the brand name MDH is pretty close to homemade versions, so if someone's feeling a little lazy...

  8. May 25, 2018

    Alright, so kari means sauce.. shouldn't it be a normal thing to bring up in indian cuisine then, not "only used when speaking english" ? It sounds like most of the time we're saying curry we should be saying masala, because we're trying to say "a food with a bunch of indian spices in it"

  9. November 21, 2018
    Supriya Kutty:

    These are delicious! I added Parmesan Cheese & Italian Seasoning. Next time I will try this recipe with Rye Bread. thanks for the wonderful share

  10. December 17, 2018

    Thank you! Found your article so useful!I appreciate your research on this topic because I got a lot of information about the topic for which i was searching for ! You explained all the topics really well, therefore. I have bookmarked your website. Please keep Sharing your articles. Day2Day Tips

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  13. February 1, 2019
    jack burton:

    One of my favorite Filipino dishes is kari kari, which is a regional dish from the southern parts of the islands. It is a thick stew with ox tails, vegetables, and peanut sauce. There must be a solid connection with this dish and India as historically the islands were an important trading partner for centuries.

  14. August 28, 2020
    Robert Yost:

    I have a plant that a local Garden Center was selling as a curry plant. I always thought there was an actual spice called curry that was not a blend of spices. But plantsnap is identifying this as lavender or silver Sagebrush it's not calling it Curry. Does anyone know if there is a plant called Curry or am I mistaken something else?

    1. August 28, 2020

      Hi Robert! Thanks for your comment. There is such a thing as a curry tree or a curry leaf plant (Murraya koenigii). It is part of the Rutacaea family and related to citrus, rue, and satinwood not lavender or sagebrush. Hope this helps!

  15. June 19, 2021
    Will Drennen:

    Very informative, I did not know this about the history of the word. I lived in south India for 2 years and the word curry was used all the time by Indians, I am surprised no one ever mentioned that. I was told that a curry was like a soup or sauce that meat and vegetables are cooked in. Thank you for adding clarity.
    Why do I see in my local grocery store (WV), curry powder is yellow like it is mostly turmeric and garam masala is brown like cumin?
    It also cracks me up when I see Chai Tea on a menu, can someone explain this to the US.

  16. August 11, 2021

    Curry is definitely an Indian word, used among Tamil speaking people of the south. Curry is the name of any spicy veggie or meat dish. Curry powder is a spice mix that we make and store in the kitchen, much like garam masala in the north. It's used in curries. Curry leaves are used in almost all south indian dishes. Curry does NOT mean sauce in South India. I think North Indians are unfamiliar with terms used in the South. Please educate yourselves.

    1. October 31, 2021

      "Please educate yourselves"? Is that Indian English?

  17. October 26, 2021
    Vyom Overseas:

    All indian likes Garam Masala and indian are most use spice in their food.
    Thank you for giving this recipe for garam masala.

  18. October 26, 2021
    Vyom Overseas:

    All indian likes Garam Masala and indian are most use spice in their food.
    Thank you for giving this recipe for garam masala.

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