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Take a curry journey to Vietnam, Trinidad, India…in Charlotte

By Tom Hanchett

Curry has a history? I never gave that a thought until I stumbled upon Kari Ga, a wonderful chicken stew at Pho Quynh on Central Avenue. “Ga” means chicken and “kari” means — say it out loud — curry. That discovery led to a Charlotte food journey reaching back to ancient India.

Curry from Vietnam

Vietnamese chicken curry, called Kari Ga, comes from ancient India. The bread along side is a legacy of French colonial days.

Pho Quynh is a new Vietnamese eatery run by Linh Nguyen, cooking in the back, and her daughter Quynh Phan, serving in the front. “Our mom had a street food restaurant in Vietnam, in our city of Phan Thiet,” says Quynh proudly. “Here she cooks Kari Ga for the big festivals at St. Joseph’s Vietnamese Catholic Church.”

Kari Ga tastes rich and comforting, with a coconut milk base and chunks of potato. Mrs. Nguyen chops chicken into small pieces, bones and all — which requires you to munch carefully, but the effort is worth it.

Caribbean curry

Manager David Ragoonath and owner Joe Mahaboob at Soul Central grew up in Indian families in Trinidad.

The next Saturday I wandered into Soul Central a few blocks down Central Avenue from Pho Quynh — and discovered curry again. The restaurant’s mainstay is American soul food, including meatloaf and collard greens. But every Saturday there’s an added Curry Corner menu.

Owner Joe Mahaboob and manager David Ragoonath are from Trinidad. “Our families came from India to Trinidad right after 1900,” Mahaboob says. “Lots of Indian people went to the Caribbean looking for opportunity around then.”

On Saturdays Soul Central serves chicken curry from India by way of Trinidad. Note the roti flatbread.

So is curry Indian? Yes, confirms a Google search. Centuries ago, traders from India brought curry to Southeast Asia. More recently, Indian immigrants carried it halfway around the globe to Trinidad.

India, north and south

For a taste-check, I visited Maharani, a longtime north Indian eatery on Kings Drive. Yep, their chicken curry has a lot in common with Soul Central’s.

Indian curry with coconut milk was harder to find. Turns out it is south Indian. Coconut trees crowd India’s southern shores, where ancient traders sailed to what is now Vietnam.

Mangeet Kaur, manager at Maharani Indian Cuisine, shows off north Indian chicken curry with roti.

In the Charlotte area, Aroma Indian Cuisine near Concord Mills Mall features south Indian specialties, such as the rolled crepes called dosas.

Jackpot! The Chicken Korma at Aroma looks a lot like the Kari Ga at Pho Quynh, with the sweet comfort of coconut milk playing off against the gentle spice of yellow curry.

On the side? Roti, a flatbread, at Aroma and Maharani. Roti, a flatbread (though with a different texture) at Soul Central. At Pho Quynh, there’s bread, too — French bread dating to Vietnam’s French colonial era.

Pho Quynh

Quynh Phan serves Kari Ga at Pho Quynh Vietnamese Cuisine on Central Avenue.

Monday – Saturday 10 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Sunday 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.

4900 Central Avenue
Charlotte, NC 28205
(980) 201 – 9124

Soul Central
Monday – Saturday 11 a.m. – 8 p.m. (Curry served on Saturdays only)
Closed Sunday

2903 Central Avenue
Charlotte, NC 28205
(980) 349 – 4015

Maharani Indian Cuisine

Murg (chicken) curry in the north Indian tradition, with roti bread on the side, at Maharani.

Monday – Thursday 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., 5 p.m. – 10 p.m.
Friday 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., 5 p.m. – 11 p.m.
Saturday Noon – 3 p.m., 5 p.m. – 11 p.m.
Sunday Noon – 3 p.m., 5 p.m. – 10 p.m.

901 S. Kings Drive
Charlotte, NC 28204
(704) 370 – 2455

Aroma Indian Cuisine

South Indian curry at Aroma Indian Cuisine uses a coconut milk base.

Tuesday – Thursday 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.
Friday 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m. – 10:30 p.m.
Saturday 11:30 a.m. – 3 p.m., 5:30 p.m. – 10:30 p.m.
Sunday 11:30 a.m. – 3 p.m., 5:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.
Closed Monday

8455 Pit Stop Court NW #150
Concord, NC 28027
(704) 979 – 8533

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