Popular Types of Indian Curries & Their Flavours: A Guide for Diners

When you think of India, apart from Bollywood movies and the majestic Taj Mahal, it's likely that hearty and flavoursome Indian curries come to mind. For those that go to an Indian restaurant like Royal India Restaurant it's one thing to be familiar with butter chicken, but it's another to decide between the vast amount of other curries on offer, each with an array of diverse flavours and spices.

Each region of India has it's own popular curries, some creamy and mild and others on the fiery end of the spice scale. To demystify the process of choosing the right curry to match your palate and spice tolerance, here is an overview of popular curries you are likely to encounter at Indian restaurants.

Mild Indian Curries

  • Malai. From the west Bengal region of India, Malai curries are gentle in heat, often using coconut milk or with yoghurt and creams. Malai dishes often feature prawns and feature cumin, garam masala, ginger and garlic. 
  • Passanda. Made with sliced fillets of lamb or chicken, coconut cream and yoghurt, Passandra dishes are known for their inclusion turmeric and cinnamon. Creamy white in colour and finished with cashew nuts.
  • Korma. Pale yellow in colour, normally made with lamb or mutton, Kormas use yogurt to temper some of heat from the spices and include almonds with a butter base.

Medium Indian Curries

  • Karahi. Given the name from the wok dish it's cooked in, Karahi dishes feature plenty of vegetables including tomatoes, ginger, peppers and onion. Usually with a medium amount of gravy. Recipes differ widely since it's the style of cooking rather than the a set recipe, however herbs spices that are often included include cumin, coriander and chilli with most Karahi dishes being medium to hot. 
  • Tikka Masala. Typically with a rich red colour, Tikka Masala meats should have a smoky flavour from being baked on skewers in the tandoor oven. Chicken is the most common meat used with the sauce created by using a masala mix of spices that includes turmeric, paprika, tomato puree and a choice of cooking or coconut cream.
  • Rogan Josh. Usually made with lamb chunks and ghee (clarified butter), Rogan Josh curries can contain more than 10 different spices. Red chilli powder, tomatoes and red capsicums give the deep red character of the dish, but it's a drier curry compared to those that are more gravy-based. Cloves, bay leaves, cardamom and cinnamon are all popular spices used.

Hot Indian Curries

  • Vindaloo. With pepper, ground chillies, garlic, cumin and vinegar, a vindaloo is one of India's hottest curry varieties. Originating from Goa in the country's west, vindaloo dishes have plenty of sauce from which much of their heat is derived. Vindaloo curry is traditionally made with pork but also chicken and beef are used, with potatoes and rice accompanying the dish to absorb some of the hot spices in the gravy.
  • Madras. Also heavy on the use of chilli, Madras curries originate from the south of India and can be vegetarian or made with meat. Red in colour but often paler than a vindaloo due to the use of yoghurt, Madras dishes feature tamarind, paprika, ginger spices heavily.