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The general term for a spiced dish coming from the Indian Sub-Continent, and Red and Green Curries from Thailand. The word probably comes from the south Indian word kari (meaning "sauce"), and curry certainly started as a means of adding interest to rice and chapatis.
Until chilis were introduced from the New World in the late 16th century, the spices used would be recognisable today, but any heat would have come from white pepper and mustard seeds. Indeed, when Europeans first encountered curry, it was described as broth poured over rice.
The first time the word seems to have been mentioned in a British cookery book was in Hannah Glasse"s "Art of Cookery", published in 1747 - where she mentions "a currey" as a filleted chicken dish spiced with ginger, pepper and turmeric
Most curries recognisable by name to us, such as Chicken Masala, have been developed in Britain, and wouldn"t be known in their supposed homeland.