Kari (Curry) versus Kari-Kari (Curry-like)

Kariyan (Carijan) by Jose Honrato Lozano (1847)

I still remember a time when my aunts in Magálang called our meat dish with a thick creamy sauce made of ground toasted peanuts, fresh grated turmeric, saffron, pepper, garlic and thickened with toasted rice powder, KARI ‘curry,’ while they called the ones cooked by Filipinos as KARI-KARI or ‘curry-like’ because my aunts said, “É ré tutúran” ‘they can’t get it right.’

The Province of Pampanga is currently known as the culinary capital of the Philippines. SÍSIG BÁBÎ, a traditional Kapampángan dish of chopped grilled pig’s ears and cheeks mixed with Kalamunding (Citrofortunella microcarpa) juice, chopped onions, chopped grilled chicken liver, salt and pepper that has evolved and later developed uniquely in Angeles City has become the Kapampángan signature dish. Tradition has it however that KARI, and not SÍSIG BÁBÎ, was once the Kapampángan’s signature dish. Even local historian Mariano A. Henson mentioned it in his 1960 book “Taste and Ways of the Pampango.”

Kapampángan cooks are traditionally called MAGKAKARI ‘those who specialize in KARI’ and their eateries are known as KARIYAN ‘places that cook and serve KARI.’ Kapampángan were said to establish the first KARIYAN (carijan) in Manila during the Spanish era to cater to the homesick Kapampángan colonial bureaucrats, soldiers, sailors and students who were working and studying in Intramuros. The KARIYAN, written in the Spanish orthography as “carijan“, later became the ‘carinderias’ we know today. The root of the word “carinderia” is KARI, written as CARI in the Spanish orthography. When Filipinos (Tagalogs) started putting up their own Carijan, Kapampángans arrogantly called the Filipino (Tagalog) version of their dish KARI-KARI (curry-like), a poor copy of the Kapampángan KARI.

It was said that when the Port of Yokohama was opened to the world on June 2, 1859, Kapampángan sailors who worked on French ships opened up their own KARIYAN for their fellow Kapampángan sailors who regularly made their way to Japan. KARIYAN was written in Kanji as 咖喱飯 (KA-RI-HAN), where 咖喱 (KARI) meant “curry” and 飯 (HAN) meant “rice”. I wonder if our KARI was not the ancestor of the popular Japanese dish カレーライス (kare raisu) ‘curry rice’ and not the one introduced by the British as the official history tells it.

When Filipino (Tagalog) became the dominant language, many Kapampángan “carinderia” began renaming their dish in Tagalog. They started calling our KALÁME as “kakanin”, our PINDANG as “tocino”, our TIDTAD as “dinuguan”, our TIBUKTÍBUK as “maja blanca” and our KARI as “kare-kare.” Many young Kapampángans are growing up not knowing the original name of their mother’s dish.

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Also read:
History of SÍSIG: How Angeles City Kept Reinventing a Traditional Kapampángan Delicacy.

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