Whilst cooking myself supper tonight I found myself wondering about the phrase ‘To curry favour’, it seemed rather non-sensical; the phrase is used to mean to obtain favour by flattery or courtesy, but what does that have to do with Indian cuisine?
To answer this we have to consider what exactly a curry is? It can describe a wide variety of tastes and consistencies but the main thread is that the meal should be heated lightly in the sauce over a long period of time – having a lot of preparation. The phrase is effectively ‘To prepare favour’.
In Indian, the word is ‘kari’ and it’s easy to see how the leap was made from this to ‘curry’ when the word reached the English-speaking world in the mid 16th century.
Interestingly, the word ‘favour’ is likely a mistake, attributed to Alexander Barclay’s book ‘Mirrour of good manners’. The word he was likely looking for was ‘fauvel’ as this was the idiom which was previously used. The phrase ‘Curry fauvel’ which was used previously was perhaps somewhat bizarrely attributed to a 14th-century French poem about a horse named Fauvel.