Variety might be the spice of life but a tasty discovery shows a popular Southeast Asian dish has remained largely unchanged for 2000 years.
Australian National University researchers have unearthed the remnants of what is believed to be the region's earliest curry.
Micro-remains recovered from the surface of stone grinding tools at the southern Vietnamese port city of Oc Eo revealed a range of spices including turmeric, ginger, fingerroot, sand ginger, galangal, clove, nutmeg and cinnamon.
Sydney chef Jackie M said curry spice mixes found in shops today essentially carry the same core set of ingredients found in the curry from 2000 years ago.
"These are very, very common ingredients we still use to this day and use quite a lot in our cooking," Ms M told AAP.
The inclusion of nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves would give it a slightly heavy note, she said. But the turmeric and ginger would lift the flavour so it would taste not too dissimilar to the average Malaysian or Vietnamese curry.
The findings offer a glimpse into the role of spices in the people's daily lives and as highly coveted commodities in ancient civilisations, ANU researcher Hsiao-chun Hung said.
PhD candidate Weiwei Wang said the discovery unveiled the extent of trade networks in that era, with curries likely introduced by migrants via the Indian Ocean and Oc Eo being a cultural and trading crossroad.
"Given these spices originated from various different locations, it's clear people were undertaking long distance journeys for trade purposes," she said.
"The global spice trade has linked cultures and economies in Asia, Africa and Europe since classical times."
Ms M said while countries in the region shared in the spoils of the spices, they all reached a slightly different take on their curry dishes.
"They have this particular vibe, but they're a bit different," she said.
"They do borrow and share from each other. There are a lot of crossovers but there are ... different nuances."
Thai curries are sweet compared Malaysian curries while Indian curries tended to be very savoury, she said.
Served with a 2000-year-old curry today, would Ms M take a bite?
"Oh, absolutely. I mean they're using those ingredients - for sure. I would eat it today. I would cook with them today."
Australian Associated Press
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