As the Times of India notes, the east coast city of Durban is the biggest ‘Indian city’ outside of India, a result of waves of immigrants to South Africa between the late 1800s and early 1900s. This beautiful African city’s strong cultural connection with the Indian sub-continent is perfectly encapsulated in the Durban Curry – a vibrant, fragrant blend of Africa and India, it’s one of South Africa’s most iconic dishes.


Durban Curry Versus Indian Curry

The English word curry is from the Tamil kari, meaning a ‘spiced dish’. India is a big country, comprising many different cultural groups – as such, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what an Indian curry is. Indian curries differ from North to South, and again from region to region within that North-South divide. South African Indian cuisine is, again, distinct from the subcontinent – Durban curries have their origins in the hot, red curries of Southern India (the Gujarat and Tamil regions, in particular). These curries feature plenty of tomatoes and red chillies, giving it their characteristic colour and fire. In Northern India, curries are more yellow in colour, thanks to the pungent turmeric spice. Through the years, the Southern Indian dishes were adopted and modified by British and Zulu peoples, too – each group putting their own spin on it until a unique Durban dish was born.

Which Cut of Meat is Best for Curry?

Beef is taboo in Hindu culture – so lamb, mutton or chicken is generally preferred. As befitting a subtropical coastal city, seafood is also an excellent choice for a Durban curry. Here’s a brief guide to what to look for:

  • Shoulder of mutton or lamb, cubed – it has a little fat to add to the flavour, and the meat yield is good
  • Chicken pieces, roughly yet neatly diced – a mix of chicken breast, thighs or wings, or whatever takes your fancy!
  • Firm white line fish, cut into chunks – an east coast species, like dorado or shad works well
  • Shellfish – prawns or crab meat may be more expensive but is delicious curried!

Vegetarian Curries

Some followers of the Hindu faith eschew meat altogether. Whether for religious or traditional reasons, or because you wish to get aboard the Meat-free Mondays campaign, bear in mind that you can make a great veggies-only version of the Durban Curry. For vegetarian curries, up the protein content with red kidney beans, sugar beans and/or butter beans, and chickpeas. Soy mince can also be used as meat substitute, and is widely available in supermarkets.

What Will I Need to Cook a Durban Curry?

Have the following items to hand in the kitchen:

  • Heavy cast iron frying pan
  • Cutting boards
  • Meat knife
  • Veggie knives

Shopping List:

  • Meat cuts, or seafood of your choice (soy, if you’re going vegetarian)
  • Vegetable oil
  • Garlic
  • Cloves
  • Cinnamon sticks
  • Ginger
  • Fresh coriander (also called dahnia)
  • Ground coriander
  • Cumin
  • Durban curry powder (garam masala)
  • Curry leaves
  • Tomatoes
  • Red chillies
  • Onions
  • Potatoes
  • Veggies (peas, brinjals, carrots etc.)
  • Ready-made pappadums
  • Salt and pepper.

Cooking the Perfect Durban Curry

Indian food is all about combining the spices, and then slowly cooking the meat and veggies to absorb all the flavours. Those skilled in Indian cuisine grind and blend their own mixes of garam masala (the secret ingredient!); those of us less practised can (thankfully) buy these already prepared from supermarkets or spice emporiums, like Durban’s historic Victoria Street Market.

Preparing the spices:

  • A teaspoon of grated ginger
  • Two or three garlic cloves, roughly diced
  • One onion, roughly diced
  • Two cloves
  • Three teaspoons of curry powder
  • One teaspoon of cumin
  • Three chillies, chopped
  • Two teaspoons of ground coriander
  • Two sticks of cinnamon
  • Finely diced fresh coriander
  • Two or three tomatoes, peeled and pureed (or use tinned diced tomatoes).

In the pan:

  • Throw in some vegetable oil
  • Sautée until the onion is translucent and the garlic golden
  • Add ginger, cloves and cinnamon sticks, followed by the curry masala, curry leaves, ground coriander and diced chillies. Stir.
  • Add meat or seafood cuts and tomato purée
  • Season with salt and pepper, and stir
  • Simmer on high for a few minutes, then add a cup of water
  • Add potatoes and veggies. Stir.
  • Reduce to medium heat and simmer for half an hour.

In the meantime…

  • Cook up a pot of rice
  • Make your side dishes of sambals and pappadums


  • When the meat or seafood is cooked, simmer on high for five minutes to finish off
  • Garnish with fresh coriander and serve with rice, sambals and pappadums.

Accompaniments for Your Durban Curry

Every good Durban curry should be served with these:

  • Tomato and onion sambal – dice raw onion and tomatoes, plus a chilli or two, and combine. Serve in a bowl.
  • Mint and cucumber raita – Dice mint leaves and cucumber and combine in plain yoghurt, and serve. Wonderfully cooling and refreshing!
  • Pappadums – flat, disc-shaped doughs which are fried in oil until crispy. Available ready-made in boxes at most South African supermarkets.