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A Generational Love for Chicken Curry
Submitted by: francesknguyen
I’ve been blessed to come from a family of excellent cooks, one of whom is my beloved grandmother. She is 84 years old and resides in Birmingham, Alabama and has lived there for the past 35 years. As a kid, whenever my family visited her, it was a guarantee that she was going to feed us with her Vietnamese Chicken Curry, ca ri ga. Filled with chicken and potatoes in a curry sauce, it’s a cherished dish that my grandmother has been making since she was a little girl. Over the years and due to her family history, her interpretation is different from the standard curry. First, she doesn’t add coconut milk. Instead my grandmother uses curry paste, giving the curry a thicker consistency. Second, she adds tons of hot jalapeno peppers making her curries incredibly spicy. All of these distinctions give her curry a stronger Indian influence. I still fondly recall alternating between eating her curry and drinking milk to soothe my taste buds. For her curry dish alone, I think it exponentially increased my tolerance level for spicy foods.
Growing up, I was always a little puzzled as to why my grandmother’s curry was different from traditional Vietnamese curry. Several years ago, she finally explained her culinary background and taught me firsthand how to make her chicken curry. She told me that when she was living in Vietnam in the 1940s, my great-grandfather was a prominent businessman. Several of his clients were from India. Whenever he was invited into their house, their servants would make curry. He was completely enraptured by the taste and spices. Afterwards, he urged my grandmother to make the curry and replicate it more as an Indian-style dish. My grandmother was resistant to the idea, but she eventually agreed to make it. She would cook repeatedly until he was satisfied with her curry. Over the years, she would add more ingredients to give her curry an extra kick. She currently adds star anise, creamy French butter, and soy sauce to give the sauce more texture, flavor, and consistency.
Her curry remains a favorite within my family. My grandmother happily tells me it was cherished by my grandfather, which in turn became a frequently requested dish by my father, and is currently loved by me. She still makes her curry for me whenever I visit her in Birmingham.