How Curry Arrived in Keelung
As a native Keelunger, our taste for curry is much stronger than for other foods with curry-based dishes found throughout the city.
Some popular types of curry in Keelung include pan-fried buns filled with curried minced meat, curry fried rice, as well as curry satay noodles.
Originating in India and derived from the word kari (meaning “sauce” in the Tamil language), curry features a variety of spices which are combined together to create a delightful blend of tastes. As far back as the 17th century, many European sailors based in Asia developed a taste for the various spices and would often bring them back to Europe.
Mixing many spices together is a common culinary practice in Keelung. At the same time, the “Rainy Port” was the first point of entry into Taiwan for many foreigners; hence old Keelung was the first place on the island to be exposed to foreign cultures. The early aboriginal cultures combined with the Spanish, while Japanese culture mixed with the Ryukyu. After the war, Chinese influence arrived and today new immigrants from the likes of Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines show off their unique cultural delicacies.
A local dish of curry fried noodles
The Evolution of Curry in Keelung
Presently, the earliest record of curry in Taiwan appears in the book “The Adventures of Formosa” by W. A. Pickering. In 1865, when he was posted at Anping Customs, he had lunch with American sailors consisting of “Chicken Curry” – a modern dish at the time.
But it wasn’t until the Japanese era that curry gained its popularity in Taiwan. With the Japanese heavily influenced by western culture after the Meiji Restoration, a Japanese store called “Waiting/House” started selling curry powder in Taiwan as early as the 1930s. They even published a series of curry powder advertisements in “Taiwan Daily News.” It was during this period that Keelung locals developed a special liking for curry flavours, and it has remained a staple ever since.
Curry continues to evolve today regardless of preparation methods. In Keelung, curry fried noodles have a vastly different appearance from their Indian counterparts; plus, Keelung’s curry is combined with shacha sauce to create different flavours.
A reason why curry became so popular among the early dock workers was due to their labour- intensive jobs. After a hard day’s work, a substantial amount of essential minerals were needed to replenish their depleted bodies. The spices in the curry mix helped the workers sweat and cool off, while the heavy shacha flavours enhanced their appetite.
However, most people aren’t aware that shacha sauce is actually developed by making modifications to satay sauce. Peanuts are dominate in both sauces in order to bring out the flavour. It is believe that a businessman was responsible for bringing curry sauces to Europe and evolving their flavours with the addition of peanuts.
Therefore, it is said that curry is a wandering food, paralleling the journey of Keelung natives; from sailing uncharted waters and discovering Keelung to today’s commuters leaving Keelung to work in Taipei, the travelling helps evolve the tastes of curry in Keelung.