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
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.
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.”
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.
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.
If you go
▪ Pho Quynh is at 4900 Central Ave. Hours: 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday. 980-201-9124.
▪ Soul Central is at 2903 Central Ave. Curry served on Saturdays only. Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday (curry served on Saturdays only); closed Sunday. 980-349-4015.
▪ Maharani Indian Cuisine is at 901 S. Kings Drive. Hours: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5-11 p.m. Friday, noon-3 p.m. and 5-11 p.m. Saturday, and noon-3 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. Sunday. 704-370-2455.
▪ Aroma Indian Cuisine is at 8455 Pit Stop Court NW #150 in Concord. Curry served evenings only. Hours: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5:30-9:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5:30-10:30 p.m. Friday, 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5:30-10:30 p.m. Saturday, and 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5:30-9:30 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday. 704-979-8533.