There are many different types of curry and no one guide will ever be able to name them all. However, we've tried to list as many as we can find here and will always be adding to the page as we come across new types of curry on different menus. If you would like us to add one we have missed, just drop us a line.
The Curry Culture Guide to Different Types of Curry
Achari is made with pickling spices and the word achar means pickle. Spices commonly used are turmeric, fenugreek, black onion seeds, Kashmiri red chilli powder as well as fennel, cumin and mustard seeds. Mustard seed oil is very important in a traditional achari curry that hails from the Punjab region.
An Afghani is generally a hot dish, stir fried with plenty of chillies and red and green peppers. Not a massive amount of sauce as it is a stir fry.
The name balti refers to the wok-shaped pan that it is cooked and served in. This comes from the Urdu and Hindi word ‘balty’ which means bucket.
The origins of the Balti are always argued about but generally people agree that the Balti curry style was invented in Birmingham where ‘balti houses’ first started to appear in the 1980s. Others have suggested that the balti comes from the Balti people who live in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan.
It is a medium curry and similar to a Karahi and other curries that come with a thick sauce rather than a runny gravy.
Bhuna curries come from the style of cooking rather than the ingredients with the word Bhuna deriving from the Urdu for "to be fried" although Madhur Jaffrey says it means "to brown" but you probably get the picture. Generally a medium dish with tomatoes and onions as the base and meat or vegetables added to the thick sauce.
This popular Pakistani curry is lamb with okra and is a relatively dry curry like a bhuna - so the sauce coats the lamb rather than the lamb sitting in a runny gravy.
Biryani is a rice based dish and comes in hundreds of different forms and sometimes with a separate sauce. Typically it is not too spicy and comes commonly as a chicken or lamb dish as well as many varieties of vegetables.
It's difficult to tie down what is meant by a Bombay curry as some say it's a chicken dish, others a beef dish and others any meat you fancy. Looking at most of the recipes they are a medium spiced dish with tomatoes and coconut milk plus garlic, ginger, chillies, cumin and coriander.
The best known dish is of course Bombay Potatoes which is a side dish rather than a curry and is a delicious spicy potato recipe.
Butter chicken is hugely popular across the world and is a simple recipe with not surprisingly a buttery flavour. The chicken is cooked in a tomato and butter based sauce (or gravy but not British gravy) and often uses pre-cooked chicken pieces. It will suit most people who like it's British invented counterpart Chicken Tikka Masala, but is probably a little spicier depending on the chef. Generally a mild to medium dish though.
This curry comes from Sri Lankan (formerly known as Ceylon) The key ingredients in a Ceylon curry coconut, lime and a hot curry powder mix specifically called Ceylon. Generally a hot dish and not all that common in UK Indian restaurants which tend to feature more Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Indian recipes.
This isn't really a curry but I've included it for the sake of completeness as it is delicious and a very common snack. It is a chickpea based dish with toamtoes and a few spices, usually served as a side dish or part of a Thali and quite mild or just slightly spicy.
We have a recipe for a Channa Massala here.
Another slightly misleading term, a Dhaba is a roadside restaurant in Pakistan and Northern India so this dish comes from there. It is a simple Punjabi style curry with plenty of spices including ginger, garlic, cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, chillies and pepper.
Often described as the sweet and sour curry, the Dhansak usually has lemon and sugar in the recipe as well as lentils. A medium to medium hot dish the use of the lentils comes from the original Parsee origins of the recipe where many types of dhal were added. There are dhansaks out there that are served with pineapple to give a contrast and some purists rebel against this version. But you like what you like, so if pineapple is your thing then go for it. My mum always used to put banana on the top of our curries but I have no idea why.
Dopiaza or Dupiaza
Dupiaza / Dopiaza means two onions so this is a sweet tasting, onion based curry recipe. It’s normally a mild dish because of the sweetness it derives from the onions. Nice with prawns, chicken, lamb or vegetables.
The Gorkhali comes from Nepal and can be quite a hot dish as it contains a generous amount of red chillies. It will also have red and green peppers, onions and tomaotes.
This is generally a medium spiced curry with mint added to give it a fresher, sweeter flavour. Having said that I have all seen it described as a tomato based dish with green peppers and a creamy dish with coconut - so who knows really?
Originating from Kashmir the word “Jalfrezi” means hot-fry or stir-fry and this is a hot dish as it contains plenty of green chillies. It will also have onions and green and/or red peppers as part of the base sauce but is served quite dry like a stir-fry should be. So the Jalfrezi like the Bhuna and Korai is a style of cooking rather than a fixed set of ingredients. I don't think I've ever had a mild one though and I have certainly had a few extra hot ones, so one for the chilli lovers.
From Northern India, these curries generally mix dried fruits with nuts and yoghurt to form a creamy, rich curry that is at a mild to medium spice level.
A keema curry uses minced beef and is a medium to hot dish that often mixes peas with the minced beef. You can have other times of minced meat such as lamb or mutton and some recipes include potatoes that make it not to dissimilar to the filling of a Shepherd's Pie, although a spicy one. Keema Matar is the classic dish which is minced lamb and peas and is a particular favourite of mine.
There are a number of Kofta curries that add the meatballs (Kofta) to a wide number of different sauces. In theory then you could have a Kofta Vindaloo for example. Vegetarian versions are also available and many restaurants will serve Kofta as a starter or part of a meat platter.
The Karahi curry is a spicy dish and is a particular favourite in Northern India and Pakistan. It is related to the Balti and Jalfrezi as all of them are stir fried dishes. A Karahi is actually the name for a type of Indian iron round bottomed wok in the same way that a Balti is a flat bottomed metal dish too. Some would argue the two dishes are essentially the same but trust me, you don't want to get into that argument.
There is no single recipe for a Karai or Karhi (there is no single spelling either) as it is more a style of cooking (stir frying in a Karahi) so this means there is plenty of variety from one restaurant's recipe to another. Traditional recipes use chicken or lamb with plenty of garlic and ginger. Generally it will be served medium to hot but we have seen milder versions too.
Korma in the UK is a mild, sweet curry taking it's main flavours from coconut and almond. It is similar to Pasanda which is another mild coconut based curry. Korma also means "slow cooking" however so if you're not in the UK style Indian restaurant you might get a totally different dish. Slow cooking and restaurants don't really go well together however so the creamy coconut sauce was developed to replace the more traditional yoghurt marinades. When over done the Korma can be too bland but when done properly it should be mild but still tasty.
A madras should be a hot and spicy curry in a thick tomato based sauce. Normally served with plenty of sauce and a meat of your choice this was for a long time the go to hot curry for British restaurants. It will have plenty of chilli powder in it and will be highly spiced.
Murgh Makhani is another name for Butter Chicken that we have described at the top of this page. So it has a tomato and butter-based sauce with cream and a blend of spices. Generally served as a mild, rich dish for those who don't like too much heat in their curry.
A masala is not a curry, it's not even a dish as all it means is a mixture of spices. So the word itself is often used in a description such as Chicken Tikka Masala (a mild sweet curry) or Garam Masala (a hot spice mixture) or Chaat Masala (another spice mixture made for side dishes such as Aloo Chaat). So although you can find recipes described as masala sauce they could be describing any kind of mixture.
This Thai curry is one of the milder curries from that region. It’s made with palm sugar and is generally quite sweet and creamy and ingredients include whole star anise, cloves, cinnamon, fresh galangal, vegetables, peanuts, and potatoes.
Think spicy lamb shank and you wont be far off (cue several chefs shaking their heads in disgust) this is a beautiful recipe for meat lovers. The lamb is slow cooked until it falls off the bone and has all the flavour of the marrow from the bone and is generally quite lightly spiced.
Like their cousin the Korma a Pasanda is a rich, creamy curry made from ground almonds and coconut. It is a sweet dish without too much heat and has it's origins in Moghul cooking using lamb. It can also have cream in it as well, so it is very mild and children generally like it.
This is a hot, sweet and sour dish that is similar in some ways to a dhansak and also with it's roots in Persian cuisine. There are generally lots of spices such as cumin, cinnamon, coriander, garlic and ginger giving it a complex flavour. The sour flavouring comes from the vinegar that makes up part of the recipe. Medium spice level typically.
Phaal or Phall is one of the hottest curries you will find on the menu. With the hottest chillies and often a large amount of chilli powder, this is not a curry for the feint hearted. Many restaurants don't serve it because they see it as a bastardisation of the the art - just heat for heat's sake.
Phall is basically a thick, tomato based curry made with Habanero or Scotch Bonnet peppers (sometimes 10 to 12 of them). It originated in Indian Restaurants in the UK (Birmingham) so it’s not the most “authentic” dish and shouldn’t be mixed up with Phaal from Bangalore which is char-grilled without sauce and eaten as finger-food.
Ideal with lamb, chicken or beef the phaal curry is always served hot.
Originally from Kashmir this is a popular dish probably because it and is a mid spice level dish, so lots of flavour and some heat, but it's not going to upset most people who like a curry. The medium or medium/hot spicy red sauce normally has plenty of dried red Kashmiri chillies in it and is full of flavour thanks to the cardamom and many other spices in the recipe. The more traditional the recipe the higher the number of spices added so it can be a complex flavour combination.
This is a different style to many curries as it contains a lot of green leafy ingredients such as spinach, mustard greens and fenugreek. It should be medium to spicy depending on how much of the other main ingredient is added - green chillies. Saag Paneer is one of the classic combinations as it mixes the greens with the paneer cheese.
The Tandoor refers to the well known oven found across Northern India and it every British Indian Restaurant. The oven produces a very high temperature and is used for cooking meat on long skewers and naan breads that are placed on the walls of the oven. Tikka generally refers marinated chicken while Tandoori has the bone in and can be any part of the chicken. They are marinated in yoghurt and spices and we have a variety of recipes on this website from mild thorugh to hot. They can be compared to Chicken Wings in other forms of cooking so come with all types of flavours.
Often quoted as the most popular recipe in Britain the Chicken Tikka Masala is now part of our culture, love it or hate it. I have seen many varieties, some I quite liked and others were just too red and sweet for me. Basically it is a mild, sweet, tomato and fruit based sauce with little or no heat in it. The chicken tikka used is pre-cooked marinated chicken pieces that have the traditional reddish tinge from their marinade. These give the dish their base flavour and depending on the restaurant the sauce can be very red as food colouring is often added apparently because we like it that way, although I have never asked for my curry by colour before.
It is said with some justification, that it was the Portuguese who introduced chillies to the Indian sub continent and led to the explosion of heat that has followed. The Vindaloo curry derives from this Portuguese heritage from their colony in Goa and is generally blazingly hot as it comes with a red chilli based sauce. Depending on the chillies used, this only goes up in heat level. Lemon and black pepper add tartness and more spice in may restaurants and it can also have potatoes alongside the main meat ingredient.